On the bleeding edge

I’ve been trying out various new technologies lately, with mixed results

My first attempt to present a paper using videoconferencing from my desktop Mac came to grief as a result of software incompatibilities, so I’ll be using standard videoconference methods again, to present a paper on Urban Water Pricing to a seminar at LaTrobe Uni, Albury-Wodonga, on Thursday. I’ll get started earlier next time and see if I can’t get these problems overcome.

During my recent visit to Canberra, I hired a Prius, which was an interesting experience. A few random thoughts about implications.
* I was particularly struck by the way it sits silently at traffic lights, and more generally how much quieter it is, most of theh time. than a standard car. That alone would be a big plus in a move towards electric cars.
* As this piece in Salon points out, a hybrid is not necessarily more fuel-efficient than smaller conventional cars. Then again, you can save even more just by driving less. The more options there are the better. I expect the price differential noted in the article will decline over time as production volumes increase.
* Looking at how easy it would be to switch to hybrids, I’m more convinced than ever that a peak in oil production (which may already have been passed) will not been the end of industrial civilisation as we know it, or even a major change in our way of life.
* s regards the more serious problem of global warming, a hybrid still uses electricity, so the gains aren’t as great. Still, many small reductions add up to big reductions Reader canberra boy points out that the Prius is not a plug-in hybrid as I thought . Rather the battery is recharged entirely by regenerative braking or, when that falls short, by the engine. As usual, Wikipedia has the details

Finally, I upgraded my Mac OS to OS 10.5 (Leopard), and am a bit grumpy. It seems as if it went smoothly for everyone but me, and in fact I nearly always have trouble with system upgrades. But, in between I really love my Mac, and my experience running Windows XP under virtualisation has only confirmed me in this.

108 thoughts on “On the bleeding edge

  1. Observa: You seem to think reducing our oil consumption is something we have a choice about. Something that only smug, do-gooder, bleeding heart, pinko lefties would even be concerned about.

    As Tony Abbott would say: Bullsh*t! The crunch is coming mate and you either deal with reality of oil depletion or reality will deal with you.

    BTW, oil it another record last night of $94.53/bbl

  2. It seems that the argument between carbonsink and myriad can keep goin round in circles forever but misses the point completley.

    A full comparison of Colt vs Prius woul include an asessment of the oil input cost to manufacture and transport both the raw materials, factory workers and the final product to the showroom floor. Once you have established that input cost (in energy terms not doallars) you then need to consider wether an existing second hand vehicl, even a huge guzzling one such as a Holden Commodore can do that same job over the projected lifetime of the car. If the input cost to manufacture a new Colt/Prius is larger than what would be guzzled by the Commodore over the same time period, it is then both economically and ecologicaly irresponsible to buy the newer car until all all the old ones have literally been driven into the ground.

    Some estimates I have seen on the web are that anywhere between 40 to 90 barrels of oil are used in the manufacture of one car.(6360 – 14,310 litres).

    So the argumane tabout repalcing all the cars to save a few litres per 100ks are in fact pointless when you consider that throwing away the embodied energy of the existng fleet is far more wasteful than the petrol they will continue to consume. Yes it would be great if we had built very fuel efficient hybrids for the past thirty years, but we didn’t and now we should be prepared to wear the consequences.

    The exisitng fleet can be made much more efficient of course without any snazzy new technology or repalcement scheme. The car industry of course won’t like that but who really cares about saving an industry that caused all these problems in the first palce. Heres waht can be done with immediate savings to the motorist and a drop of profits to the oil and car industry:

    1. Fill alll the seats in the car with passengers. This will immedaitley improve the passenger mile fuel economy which is what we should measure.

    2. Slow down. An autoamtic 4 speed Holden Commodore can be driven in heavy traffic without ever revving more than 1500 rpm even in 4th at 60km/h.

    3. Inflate the tyre to correct pressure and have the car serviced regularly.

    4. Turn off air conditioner on days you dont really need it. (Heating is waste heat from engine so you may as well use it).

    5. Learn to drive strategically in traffic. Ie look well ahead to traffic lights and try to coast to a stop. Using brakes is a net energy loss that comes from petrol consumed.

    6. Substitute the car use with other modes of transport. Walk to get the paper and milk. Ride a bike. Go public transport.

    7. Live closer to where you work. Long commutes are an invention that only work in the age of cheap oil.

    8. Use the car less but keep it for longer. Updating/upgrading is a consumer luxury.

    And to all those wankers who think they are saving the planet driving Prii, wake up and smell the coffee. Peak oil is going to fundamentally change the way we live and trying to keep all the cars going is going to prove to be a dissapointing and ultimately defeated endevour. Put you efforts into building walkable towns, roadlinks built for bicycle traffic, and trains and light rail for those rare occasions when we need to venture far from home. I know, it’s not i-pod land… it’s better, it’s going to be reality.

  3. They are all absolutely spot-on points Dreyger, and I agree. The bit that you’ve missed though is that “my” prius in question is not mine at all, but a government lease vehicle, and unfortunately I don’t have any say over the vehicle fleet policies such as rolling over vehicles every 24 months / 40 000 Km etc.

    About all I can influence is what cars are leased as part of the mix, and I’m satisfied that going the prius was a good option.

    My own personal car, as I observed above, is a Mazda 121 1995 model, that still gets 6-6.5L/100km and has been well maintained. I won’t be looking to replace it until its petrol consumption increases radically, something that happens with many old vehicles as parts start to give beyond the point of sensible replacement & repair, and/or if all-electric vehicles come around anytime soon.

    I’d use public transport, but living rurally in Tasmania, there basically isn’t any, and the buses so old and inefficient that there’s probably a credible argument to be made against using them except in the inner city if I could be bothered. What we need is what the Greens have been suggesting forever down here, which is to use the existing light rail routes to create more public tranport – a light rail system could easily run from Bridgewater through to Hobart CBD, all through the northern suburbs and providing ‘park & ride’ options for those at Brighton etc., which is out my way. No major party has been smart enough to see the light on this, even though it would also create much-needed jobs in the poorer northern suburbs in particular.

    I would disagree on one minor point – old cars emit vastly more other forms of pollutants, not just C02 that needs to be factored in to overall environmentally responsible decisions, and the embodied energy in a car can be partially recycled through parts/metals recovery.

    As for calling people ‘wankers’ – hardly going to persuade anyone, and particularly stupid when you don’t know who you’re talking to and what their personal politics or philosophies are. Personally about the only thing that cheers me up in a black way is that peak oil and climate change are going to probably hit a nexus where humanity’s inaction on climate change will be somewhat balanced by the collapse of the fossil-fuel economies.

    thanks carbonsink, and fwiw it’s ‘she’. 🙂

  4. clarification – I agree with Dreyger from a fuel-saving perspective. From a C02 emissions perspective your argument gets considerably weaker re: using older vehicles – its really going to depend on what you define as ‘old’.

  5. Because I admire Toyota’s engineering brilliance and particularly the genius that has gone into the Prius, let me opine that it may as well be compared to apples and oranges as to any auto manufacturer’s small economy cars. These are different things.

    The Prius is very economical, true, but it’s much else as well. It’s as roomy and comfortable inside as the larger Camry, better appointed (there are, I think, no optional extras), and beautifully engineered. It’s built to a standard European luxury marques don’t normally match, higher than Toyota’s normal standards. It beats sports cars away from traffic lights, silently, because it has 400+NM of torque available from rest. It moves adults quickly and comfortably through cities and surrounds in a way only its hybrid competitors and the electric cars of the future can/could hope to match. You know I could go on.

    Don’t get me wrong observa. If what you are looking for is economical personal transport protected from the elements and with room occasionally for groceries and the family pet, with money left over to spend on solar power or other excellent ideas, something like a Mitsubishi Colt would be a brilliant idea itself.

  6. Had a chance to pop into a Toyota dealer in my travels today and sat in one. Now I’m six foot four plus and the knee to steering wheel didn’t thrill me cf the Colt. Neither did my head touching the roof in the back seats. The Colt is 60mm higher than the Prius and doesn’t slope downwards at the back. This is the trend in shopping trolleys, to keep you sitting more upright(like a dining chair instead of a lounge) to negate the need for length of car for leg room and once the car breaks the air, there’s not much point in sloping it down at the rear to bang the passenger’s heads on, albeit tall ones. True, the Prius is a slightly bigger car, but I did hear some mention of walking or bicycles, let alone small mopeds and scooters, in order to save the planet. I’d suggest you go and sit in a Colt(or similar), before you make the judgement that it’s too big a sacrifice to make in that regard. That said, I chose the Colt LS because of similar traits to Prius specs. Electric smooth Constant Variable Transmission, great power to weight and the best conventional economy in the business, power windows and mirrors, ABS and EBD safety features, along with the usual refinements, albeit no cruise control, but I can retrofit one of those on my Commode ute for $750, if I so desired. Wisely I chose a gas conversion instead to bring it back to small car economy (about 8c/km but rising) But I digress. I have already compared the conventional ColtLS and hybrid Prius and shown you the results. Dreyger offers all of us greenies(I’m the market, level playing field type Myriad) good advice, but the advice, such as it applies, is the same whether you’re driving the Prius or the Colt. I still contend the Prius in your garage/carport is not as green as a Colt in mine plus the option of solar to the grid on my roof. I know MrsO can cycle or walk, but I’d strongly suggest, that’s a bit of an insult to the intelligence when I can’t even get you out of a Prius and into a Colt. I did notice that when Myriad was paying, she still chooses a 1995 Mazda 121 however. I’d need to break that option rather diplomatically to the strife as you could well imagine. I’ll leave you to mention the bike or legs.

    Back to the Prius. I asked the salesman about the battery warranty. 5 years was the reply. How much to replace them? $4500 he looked at me sheepishly. And how long do you expect them to last? Ahhh, 6, 7 or 8 years he looked at me resignedly. I’m clearly asking the wrong questions to be a potential Prius buyer. They came out in 2001, so have you replaced any batteries yet? No we haven’t at this dealership yet(He’ll make a politician yet) Well, they’re still improving the technolgy and we have some other great cars, he looked expectantly. So, we already know that a 6yr old 2001 Prius can be worth as low as $9500 trade-in and in other 4 years what would it be worth?
    “Starting uni is she eh dad? Look I know I said our bottom line on that 10 year old one owner Colt with books was $3999, but just because I like the little lady and want to see her get ahead, give me three and a half cash and I’ll throw in a free Prius. Just needs new batteries and rego and it’ll be a lovely car for the missus. We’ll even deliver.”

    Now Dreygus rightfully points out-
    “A full comparison of Colt vs Prius would include an asessment of the oil input cost to manufacture and transport both the raw materials, factory workers and the final product to the showroom floor.”
    Myriad points out-
    “Finally, an important nitpick -the major issue with in particular photovoltaic cells at the moment is the amount of fossil energy it takes to make them, so if you’re serious about reducing your greenhouse gases, you’ve got to factor this in as well – ie life cycle GG production.”

    Well to that I’d have to say OK if you were comparing a cubic metre of hay to a cubic metre of plasma screens, but we’re comparing similar manufactured items and I’d strongly suggest, price is representative of the energy and resources used. Solar to the grid has, glass, aluminium, silicon, galvanised steel mounting frames as wel as copper wire, plastics and electronics, etc in the inverter and control box, etc. Pretty similar to cars. Ipso facto the price of the Prius and the price bof the Colt and solar is probably a good guide to the inherent CO2 and resources locked up in them. 10 years life for the Colt and Prius(5 year warranty), although it could be longer, but solar panels generally have a 25 year guarantee, with some at 30 years. What is the effective life of those resources and implicit energy therefore? That’s a no-brainer. Far and above autos, let alone their expensive battery packs.

    Then Myriad says-
    “To further complicate matters, I live in Tasmania where over 90% of the energy comes from renewable sources (hydro). So the major are of greenhouse gas emissions both personally and professionally is not actually base-load electricity, it’s transport, which I’m afraid rather makes most of your calculations irrelevant.”
    Basically they can dam the Franklin before we’ll ever get Myriad out of her Prius and into a Colt and solar.

    Then Myriad takes the two party preferred approach-
    “And then there’s the final factor which you missed, although not for want of some pretty comprehensive posting – encouraging innovation. To get to my hopefully near-future dream of a cost-effective all-electric vehicle that people could power from latent grid stored energy, which they can contribute to via personal generation…

    we need innovation, and that needs market and government support.”

    You know- Keep supporting the coal industry(picking winners) and one day they might crack CO2 sequestration or even oil from coal, so we don’t have to worry about peak oil even. As for the solar opportunity cost perhaps, well Myriad, presumably knows emphatically that’s a loser.

    “To anticipate your next question/response, if I saw governments making intelligent decisions along the lines of “lets lease smaller, cheaper, fuel-efficient vehicles for our fleets, and pour the savings into turning all government buildings into renewable energy-powered, energy efficient havensâ€?, I’d be all for it.”

    The Howard and Rudd line. We’re not signing up to actual targets like Kyoto until China and India do. Sounds pretty reasonable. It’s really all about reasle value and lease payments and OHS, although when Myriads paying the 1995 121 is comfy enough.

  7. Observa: Seeing as you’re spending time in car dealerships, pop into your nearest VW dealer and ask if they have a Golf TDI 2.0 you can drive. If they do, point it at the nearest hill and floor it. That’s what I did, and I bought one.

    I test drove a Prius in 2004 soon after the new model was released. I had convinced myself I needed one, and admittedly it was at least partially for smug, greenie, do-gooder reasons, but mainly because I loved the technology and wanted to support it. Anyway, I came away disappointed from the test drive. It was more spaceship than car, and I wanted something that was both fun to drive and ultra-economical. (Hey, you may as well have fun in the dying days of the petroleum age!) So, as an afterthought I test drove the Golf TDI and I was sold in the first two minutes.

    Now I won’t even attempt to justify the purchase of the Golf on economic grounds, but that’s not why people buy cars. Most people buy cars for emotional reasons, otherwise we’d all drive Corollas. Since when does a hoon have to justify the financials of buying an HSV Commodore? Why should a greenie do-gooder have to justify buying a Prius?

    I thought I’d end the day with an economist joke I saw at TOD:

    Two economists find themselves locked in a basement. They’re not sure what time it is, because it’s dark and they can’t read their watches. They think it’s nearly dinner time, cause they’re starting to feel hungry. But they’re not worried; they are not starting to panic – because they know that their demand will create sandwiches for them!

    Boom Boom!!

  8. Strictly one for the Keynesians among us, that one carbonsink.

    I’m well aware of why the showrooms are full of different cars, but the exercise was to demonstrate buying a Prius, isn’t really all about being green, whoever’s making the decison. To be really green ie minimising your carbon footprint via transport takes more than emotional feelgood. That takes an understanding of basic economics/business. For the benefit of those who don’t understand the crux of that, the Prius/Colt tradeoff is an excellent example to demonstrate the marginal analysis involved for the skeptics. You see none of us can say for sure that spending the 18991st dollar(the next dollar above the cost of a Colt) on solar cells will return a greater marginal benefit WRT CO2 reductions, than investing the same dollar in hybridisation (toward a Prius)but what the quick analysis does show, is that somewhere between approx. $19k and $37k, the marginal benefit of spending a dollars worth of resources on solar exceeds hybrid, thereby raising the average benefit and producing the overall total benefit at the end. That’s what being a market green is all about, as distinct from some initial emotional response, signifying nothing, or at best a much lesser outcome. That’s my general critique of the Myriads and their ‘feel’ for what they think is doing the right thing. Myriad quickly resorts to all sorts of other justifications for not producing the goods re CO2 emissions reductions. Also Myriad knows best and can pick winners(sponsor favourites with our tax resources) That’s what the Soviets did and why they failed. Not laying their resources on the line, they(the rulers) could indulge their whims and fancies, ignoring marginal costs and marginal benefits, to the ultimate detriment of the ruled. When the ruled got unruly about that, they could could chuck them in the Gulag, which worked for a while, but eventually the game was up. To a lesser degree our ruling elites can do similar with the public purse, while struggletown ultimately bears the costs of any economic ignorance or self indulgence(the opportunity costs). That’s why we always need to keep their numbers to a minimum and their eye on the ball.

    Back to the real world and the NRMA weekly costs of running a car. That’s you and me, with no GST exemption and State Govt stamp duty etc. The cheapest is the Hyundai Getz at around $120/wk, the wife’s LS Colt at $140 and the Prius still a creditable $200/week, bearing in mind some of those showroom hulks crack well into the $300s. I’m a comfortable basic, A-B wheels man and so the extra $60/week for the Prius doesn’t turn me on. What does now, is 36sq m of solar panels at around and a 10% return(effectively after tax), with a 10 year payback period, leaving another 20 years warranty on the panels. That’s the benefit of not being too emotional about my choice of wheels, among other things and I get to be a feelgood greeny to boot.

  9. You can’t put a “VOTE GREEN” Sticker on your Solar Grid though Observa.

    Also, on the biofuels topic: Palm Oil is used for food in many tropical countries, and bananas are an extremelyimportant staple food in much of the world. So growing biofuel is not without it costs.

  10. observa: You don’t need to convince me about the economics of Prius vs Colt, at least as things stand today. Its great that you’re so keen about solar PV, but putting your money into PV instead of a hybrid/diesel does nothing to reduce your oil consumption, and given that you might keep the Colt for (say) 8 years, think about where oil prices were in 1999 ($20), and where they are today ($100). A five-fold increase over the next 8 years and we’ll be looking at $500/barrel, and the Australian dollar might not be so kind to us this time.

    Ask yourself, do the economics of Colt vs Prius change at $500/barrel?

    If you genuinely want to reduce your overall CO2 emissions for the lowest possible cost then solar PV would have to be one of the most expensive ways to go about it. You’d be much better off taking up Malcolm’s $1000 rebate on solar hot water and/or getting one the Ruddsters zero interest loans to insulate your home.

  11. Myriad 49,

    There are many solutions. Here is one:

    http://jxb.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/45/6/757

    The Burdekin area is indeed an alluvial plain where capsicums also grow well. No staples so far.

    I don’t recall suggesting that cane is grown in poor land. What I do believe happened in the Ord River area is that of the many crops tried only bananas, pineapples and cane survived because of insect and bacterial attack.

    I am going to horrify you even further by suggesting that Australia needs to be replanted with European deciduous trees (along with others) where ever thay can survive. And all indications are that they survive quite well. And the reason is that these trees have a broad based cone construction and do not readily burn, whereas our natives are of a narrow based cone construction and burn extremely well. The consequence is that the native trees promote periodic fires because of their shape which attracts lightning strikes, which, once alight, are enhanced by the tree shapes which force airflow to the ground where the highly flamable tinder burns every thing available including any humous that may have formed since the previous fire and provides the heat to perpetuat the fire. By contrast the deciduous trees force airflow upwards reducing the effectiveness of fires which are not perpetuated by burning tree tops or ground tinder.

    I suspect that the Eucalypts which Australia is covered with are an accident of nature. It is possible that other types of trees were on the continent but died out, but the prevalence of the Eucalypts has left Australia a hot dry country with very poor soil. A mixture of native eucalypts and deciduous trees will lead to better soil over time and dramatically reduce the intensity of fires. This can happen without significantly affecting native fauna.

  12. Observa,

    you seem to be having a problem grasping the difference between creating hypothetical scenarios where one can alter any variable you like, and the actual reality of the situation.

    The reality is that Tasmania has Hydro power, not coal, and that its now also moving into wind power generation. Therefore energy/transport decisions happen within this context, and no other.

    The reality is that back in late 2005 when I had to make a decision about which car to lease, my choices were Subaru Impreza or Forester (both averaging 10L/100km), Toyota Camry (also 10L/100km), Holden Commodore (11.5L/100Km) or an equivalent Ford & Mitsubishi Magna. There were smaller models available to lease, but all on offer at that time had fuel consumption around 7L/100km at best, and all were significantly smaller which becomes rather problematic when part of your job is to drive as much as 20 hours a week all over the state, often with multiple passengers, and nearly always with box-loads of materials. I had tried this the lease before and ended up with severe leg issues from driving long hours in a car simply not designed for long-haul driving, which meant lots of trips to the physio and other complications.

    And then there’s that tiny hump which you can’t seem to heave your brain over, which is opting for a different cheaper vehicle and putting the savings into solar pv isn’t even remotely an option.

    The Howard and Rudd line. We’re not signing up to actual targets like Kyoto until China and India do. Sounds pretty reasonable. It’s really all about reasle value and lease payments and OHS, although when Myriads paying the 1995 121 is comfy enough.

    This doesn’t even make sense as a point. I can’t change overarching gov’t leasing policies set by Treasury, I can only try and make the best choices possible within those parameters, and you still haven’t been able to produce a single piece of evidence to show that I didn’t.

    Why you would expect a person to make the same decision when faced with two scenarios – one where I have ‘free choice’ (ie my own personal life) and one where I don’t (gov’t lease vehicle) shows to me either you’re not particularly logical ’cause you just so hate prius’, or you’re being willfully dumb – especially as you seem to agree that Dreygus’ argument trumps yours.

    I’d understand if I’d made an argument that the Prius is the right decision every time, but I’ve done no such thing – I’ve provided an example of a real life situation where the Prius makes sense, and none of your critiques have proven differently.

    Now let’s come to your experience with asking about replacement costs for the Prius battery. It’s expensive. But you’ve neglected to factor in that the Prius has no gears. The warranty on the battery is for 8 years, but Toyota expects the battery to last 15, and so far the evidence is supporting that. But let’s stick with 8-10 as your average battery life replacement. In that time you can fully expect to replace the clutch in the car, and quite possibly have to rebuild the transmission, which together will cost at least $3000. There is also significantly less stress on timing functions in a Prius because the petrol engine does not directly interface with the road in the same way as a standard vehicle. Factor all those things in and the cost of maintaining a normal car over the same period will not be a whole lot cheaper than a Prius, and may in fact be more expensive if the battery in the Prius lasts 15 years as Toyota expects it to. And it was precisely on this basis that a cabbie I know (we got to know each other at a petrol station when comparing notes on Prius) has bought 3 Prius for his fleet, after several months of research. His was a purely commercial decision (costs of running the vehicles) although he was happy to be seen to be doing the right thing – just not to the expense of his business, as you’d expect.

    Then we come to the argument about the life-cycle costs of the Prius vs other vehicles – to quote from Wikipedia

    Environmental impact of battery

    The Mail on Sunday newspaper retracted an article linking Toyota’s nickel-metal hydride battery (Ni-MH battery) production to environmental damage said to have been caused by nickel mining at a facility now owned by CVRD Inco at Sudbury, “in order to prevent further misinterpretation,” and publishing in its place a rebuttal letter from Dave Rado. Rado accuses the article of inaccuracy, and notes that nickel is used for countless other purposes and that any damage occurred more than 30 years ago, long before the Prius was made.[39] However, the article’s charges were repeated by followup articles in other publications, and provoked heated debate in online forums.[40] [41] m A question often raised about the battery is whether it can, or will be, recycled and whether it will be source of pollution.[42][43] Toyota themselves state on their website: “Toyota has a comprehensive battery recycling program in place and has been recycling nickel-metal hydride batteries since the RAV4 Electric Vehicle was introduced in 1998. Every part of the battery, from the precious metals to the plastic, plates, steel case, and the wiring, is recycled. To ensure that batteries come back to Toyota, each battery has a phone number on it to call for recycling information and dealers are paid a $200 ‘bounty’ for each battery.”[44]

    Lifetime energy cost

    A 2006 study by CNW Marketing Research, Inc. calculated the overall energy cost of a Prius at US$3.25 per mile and a Chevrolet Tahoe SUV at US$2.94 per mile. It concluded that 2005 hybrids cost “significantly more in overall energy costs than conventional Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles.”[45] David Friedman of the Union of Concerned Scientists commented that the study “has been completely contradicted by studies from MIT, Argonne National Laboratory, and Carnegie Mellon’s Lifecycle Assessment Group.”[46]

  13. Bilb

    The Burdekin area is indeed an alluvial plain where capsicums also grow well. No staples so far.

    Once more: the argument is not about what is growing there now, it’s about
    a) what our land capability is now and what condition it is in 7 hence our ability to grow food
    b) what the effects of climate change are going to be on our land capability & hence ability to grow food.

    You are suggesting converting much or our arable land to growing biofuel crops. I’m suggesting that’s a very poor choice given our amount of arable land is rapidly decreasing/under threat/requiring remediation and climate change is going to make it even harder for us to grow our food.

    I am going to horrify you even further by suggesting that Australia needs to be replanted with European deciduous trees (along with others) where ever thay can survive. And all indications are that they survive quite well. And the reason is that these trees have a broad based cone construction and do not readily burn, whereas our natives are of a narrow based cone construction and burn extremely well…..

    I suspect that the Eucalypts which Australia is covered with are an accident of nature. It is possible that other types of trees were on the continent but died out, but the prevalence of the Eucalypts has left Australia a hot dry country with very poor soil. A mixture of native eucalypts and deciduous trees will lead to better soil over time and dramatically reduce the intensity of fires. This can happen without significantly affecting native fauna.

    Well your lack of knowledge rather horrifies me. First up, Eucalypts burn well mainly because of the combustible oils they store, something that deciduous trees don’t.

    Secondly, the fires ecology of Australia has been created over millions of years, and also put in place by Aboriginal practices. These in combination actually do almost the exact opposite of what you describe, as regular light patchwork burns, which is what the Aborigines encouraged, keeps fuel loads at optimum levels, encourages a plethora of understorey species particularly biodiverse grass systems (which formed the basis and still do to some extent of our ride on the sheeps’ back), and burn lightly thus not scorching humous but freeing those stored in dead plant material for plant recycling. Even an unpractised eye can spot this after a bushfire in Australia by seeing the explosion of growth that happens afterwards.

    It’s European mucking with the natural fire regimes of Australia that has caused a lot of imbalances and problems.

    Thirdly, the biodiversity of Australia is fundamentally linked to fire, and adaptation to poor soil and limited, often ephemeral water availability. Atetmpting to replace it all with European deciduous trees would not only fail because they don’t cope with poor soil and limited water, it would trash the biodiversity which is the system that makes this entire contintent tick. So no, I don’t think that’s a very good idea, and you won’t find a single reputable Australian scientist who would support it.

    With regard to soils, you have your cause and effect the wrong way around. Eucalypts flourish in Australia because we have the oldest, poorest soils in the world – ie they are an adaptation to the conditions – geology comes before biology. Saying they are an ‘accident’ makes no sense because evolution is pretty much a series of consequences from ‘accidents’. And the presence of Eucalypts & the highly biodiverse ecosystems they are part of has actually secured Australia’s water supplies, as their incredible adaptations have

    a) provided biomass that can live in the arid poor soil conditions, thus stabilising microclimates that ensure rainfall
    b)Eucalypts are incredible pumps that have ensured that Australia’s water tables retain water in the ground through the regular drought cycles driven by El Nino, and the exchange of water between surface and ground
    and
    c) supported a plethora of understorey species and systems that have also adapted to help hold water in the landscape through wetlands, billabongs etc.

    I highly recommend David Lindenmayer of ANU’s work to you, and for that matter “The Future Eaters” by Tim Flannery is also a very digestible account of Australia’s landscape and ecology, and the factors that drive it – all of which directly contradict the argument you are making.

    I think it’s also worth pointing out that not only is your idea ecologically unsound, it’s also entirely impractable – even though we’ve deforested Australia rather significantly, there are still a few many million hectares of Eucalypt forest, and thinking we can somehow remove al those and successfully plan European deciduous trees is both economically and environmentally unfeasible. Even if we imagine for the sake of it that it would be possible to remove all the Eucalypts, even say in stages, the loss of the Eucalypts over large areas and the time it would take the replacement trees alone spells ecological disaster – no trees = no canopy = almost 100% loss of water through evaporation = permanent drought = lots and lots of dead deciduous seedlings, not to mention lots and lots of extinct species and general ecological chaos.

  14. Myriad,

    I think that you might like to come up with a list of sustaineable crops that can grow in Burdekin and Ord. Something that we can comapare against what was tried and failed. It appears that the area where the cane grows well is going to become wetter and more insect affected with global warming. Our ability to feed ouselves is not at all at risk. What is at risk is the economics of farming as it has developed. The land is all still viable, just not commercial in the corporate way.

    Yes eucalypts burn well because of the oil in the leaves….exactly my point, no conflict. This country of ours is dominated by kerosene tins on sticks.

    The explosion of growth after fires comes because that is what the plants have adapted to do. Some plants need the fire to propagate that growth as they have adapted to see the fire as their oportunity to grow without competition.

    Australia has the oldest and the poorest soils because the flora that was here when the continent peeled off from gondwanaland developed in the way that it has. Not necessarily because it was the optimal outcome. Nature does produce dead ends.

    The soil is poor, I am suggesting, because of the flora that survived. I am not suggesting removing eucalypts, I am suggesting interspercing other trees of different shape amoungst the eucalypts. The 2 tree types actually coexist quite well, and eucalypts thrive without periodic fires.

    Perhaps you missed Tim Flannery’s prediction that with significant global temperature rise all of Australia will be burnt black to the extent that not much will survive at all in many areas. That is the worst case scenario, which would reduce David Lindenmayer’s work to a historical document.

    Carbonsink,

    You’re foaming again, you might care to use your handkerchief.

  15. Q: How do you argue someone who wants to plant out Australia with European weeds?

    A: You don’t. You report him to the authorities. Its a crime.

    Mate, I think you need to spend a week doing some bush regen. You might learn a thing or two.

  16. I don’t think that I have ever heard an oak tree called a weed before. I’m plant tilia cordatas. So sue me.

  17. I think that you might like to come up with a list of sustaineable crops that can grow in Burdekin and Ord. Something that we can comapare against what was tried and failed.

    Actually I think it’s a little more incumbent on you to review the mounds of literature available on the fact that Australia has just 6% of arable land on the entire continent, and nearly all of it is under increasing stress, and nearly all of it will experience even greater challenges as viable cropping/farming land under even conservative climate change scenarios – and then demonstrate why converting any of it to biofuel production as its sole purpose makes any kind of sense. I’ve read the literature and understand the arguments, and the policies. You?

    It appears that the area where the cane grows well is going to become wetter and more insect affected with global warming.

    Actually, it’s expected to do that in some parts of cane country, and only if the temperature rise is kept to 2 degrees or under, which is looking increasingly unlikely thanks to the assinine “leadership” of the likes of Mr Howard. After that, rainfall predictions for SE Qld / Northern NSW are largely dire.

    Our ability to feed ouselves is not at all at risk.

    And you base this on…?

    What is at risk is the economics of farming as it has developed. The land is all still viable, just not commercial in the corporate way.

    But you’re making an economic argument for converting current commercial farming land to biofuel production, but then think its reasonable to compare that to what, some sort of communal subsistence-style farming system for food production? Either we are comparing apples with apples, or we aren’t. Under any climate change / alternate farming options scenarios, it’s reasonable to presume that farmer would still like to make a living in return for what they do. It’s also reasonable to assume that as a nation we’d like to eat as a first priority.

    This country of ours is dominated by kerosene tins on sticks.

    No, it’s dominated by trees with a veritable plethora of adaptations to fire, ones that have successfully made it one of the most biodverse places on the planet; and it is that biodiversity and adaptability that will make or break our chances of surviving climate change in reasonable shape – and you want to replace them with mal-adapted species with completely different ecosystem functions, and think this will work.

    The explosion of growth after fires comes because that is what the plants have adapted to do. Some plants need the fire to propagate that growth as they have adapted to see the fire as their oportunity to grow without competition.

    yeah, I learnt this in first year uni; but you obviously don’t understand that one of the reasons the explosion is possible is that the fire tolerance adaptations mean that fires in Australia are largely light and patchwork, and recycle the nutrients released by the burn.

    Australia has the oldest and the poorest soils because the flora that was here when the continent peeled off from gondwanaland developed in the way that it has.

    Again, incorrect. Australia’s poor soils result from the continent’s geological stability, particularly after it peeled off from Gondwanaland, and the prevailing climatic conditions. In a nutshell, without any real volcanic or other similar activity (eg glaciation, except for a small amount in Tasmania), Australia has been stuck with the same soil for many millions of years, and that is what the plants have adapted to. They didn’t create the soils, they adapted to them to survive.

    Not necessarily because it was the optimal outcome. Nature does produce dead ends.

    LOL. You sound exactly like the early english naturalists who studied Australia and concluded that marsupials were so ‘backwards’ that the only reason they survived is because other mammals never made it here. Now we know that other mammals did make it here and got comprehensively licked by the superior adaptations of the marsupials.

    The soil is poor, I am suggesting, because of the flora that survived.

    No, the soil is poor because our geology is the oldest and most stable in the world. And we are therefore extremely blessed that Eucalypts and other plants adapated to it.

    I am not suggesting removing eucalypts, I am suggesting interspercing other trees of different shape amoungst the eucalypts.

    Ok, so there’s roughly 164 million hectares of Eucalypt forests in Australia. How are you going to do this again?

    The 2 tree types actually coexist quite well, and eucalypts thrive without periodic fires.

    First, whether the trees can grow next to each other tells us nothing about the ecological impacts of that. One obvious example – deciduous trees are largely shallow-rooted and spreading; eucalypts send down very deep roots; deciduous rely on far more water as well – so ‘diluting’ eucalypts with deciduous therefore has major implactions for water balances, particularly interstitial water in soils.

    Second, eucalypts without periodic fire accumulate massive amounts of flammable fuel load, so by restricting fire – which you can’t sensibly do anyway particularly as climate change predicts more lightening strikes means you’re setting us up for armageddon bbq-style.

    Perhaps you missed Tim Flannery’s prediction that with significant global temperature rise all of Australia will be burnt black to the extent that not much will survive at all in many areas.

    No not at all, and perhaps you missed that his recommendations for dealing with this was to re-instutute as much as possible the Aboriginal approach to regular patch-burning of the landscape, not planting deciduous trees that will either die, weaken the resilience of our natural ecosystems, and provide even more fuel once those fires inevitably erupt in the forests that you’ve kept fire-free and now over-burdened with fuel load.

    That is the worst case scenario, which would reduce David Lindenmayer’s work to a historical document.

    I take it you don’t realise that Lindenmayer is one of the country’s leading experts on forest and fire ecology, including climate change predictions and potential management solutions. I rather think he’s got a better grasp than you on how to handle the potential scenarios – and still no recommendation for mass-planting deciduous.

  18. I don’t think that I have ever heard an oak tree called a weed before
    I do, but then I see the havoc that garden escapees can wreak on natural eco systems. I’m just back from planting a dozen or so trees. I’ve planted around 500 natives around my property this year which was previously infested with lantana, senna and coral trees.

    Oh myriad, you should know that Bio Bill is in favour of slashing the tropical rainforests of SE Asia and replacing them with palm oil plantations for biodiesel, because “the forests are going to die anyway”.

    See, mad as a Bolta.

  19. Myriad,

    The crops that you are talking about are the storable, transportable crops (grains, cereals, whatever). These are the crops that are seen as being essential for survival. The tropical crops tend to be of the immediate consumption kind. My study of this document:
    http://audit.ea.gov.au/ANRA/agriculture/docs/national/Agriculture_Scene.html
    to me, supports my argument but it indeed points out the limits of land use in Australia. However I am taking a longer term view of the potential environmental outcomes and consider more radical possibilities than you seem to be prepared to do.

    Australia has boundless energy available, and because of this there are alternatives when it comes to water sources. http://www.dlr.de/tt/Portaldata/41/Resources/dokumente/institut/system/projects/AQUA-CSP_Flyer.pdf

    These sorts of solutions may become necessary to augment natural water supply and have the potential to extend the life of natural farming practices and then later as climate worsens massive greenhouses irrigated from desalinated water are practical for a healthy economy.

    So that is the basis on which I say that we will not have any risk of not feeding ourselves.

    On the tree mix issue I believe that the mix of trees enhances decomposition of the tree litter. This can only be determined with experimentation. You would be right to say that this may well only work in certain environments. I would prefer to see this happen on a wide scale, but it may well be what we do in the near proximity of communities only to reduce the intensity of fires as they approach property.

    I don’t care how Lindenmayer is perceived. Australian history is littered with expert opinion that has led to disaster. Taking inflexible technical positions is the basis for stagnation at this most dynamic of times. That is not to say that he his is not the most valid of knowledge bases. This is a time to leave no possibility unconsidered.

    Commercial viability of land use? The reality is that cane ethanol wins hands down. Cane farmers get their income as a two thirds share of the product yield. So the cane farmers selling to the sugar mill have been getting $25 per tonne for their cane, but the cane farmers selling their cane to the ethanol plant are now getting $45 per tonne. It is profitable to the extent that they are about to install the latest technology from Brazil. Good luck in stopping that train.

    Tearing my argument to pieces is certainly what you should do if you believe that I am wrong, but then it is behoven on you to offer a workable alternative. The biofuel path will indeed work and it is a robust solution that can be substantially implemented in 20 years or less. It is a solution that will keep out community working with minimal disruption and at a reduced cost. You believe that the country cannot afford it. What are you proposing?

    Carbonsink,

    .

  20. The biofuel path will indeed work and it is a robust solution that can be substantially implemented in 20 years or less.

    How’s it gonna work in Japan?

  21. Myriad, I appreciate you may well be locked into Govt leasing policies. Recall my advice about taking a marginal analysis to them to- ‘please explain. You seemed to be sticking up for them and I addressed those points as if ‘they’ were making them. I’ll continue as if you are ‘they’, albeit you actually privately drive a 1995 121, which as Dreyger points out has merit in the implicit carbon/resource tradeoff involved. However as you rightly point out, there is the increasing maintenance and serviceability factor imposing itself on the calculus.

    Back to the Prius and the picking of winners argument.(govts supporting hybrid technology) This is the problem with that sort of precocious thinking
    http://www.caradvice.com.au/7707/greener-hyundai-i30-crdi/
    On those figures and given your country driving for work, it’s bye bye Prius and hello simple diesel already, articularly with that battery problem I mentioned. 5 years only according to the Toyota salesman and why would he lie if it were 8Yrs? In fact Privatefleet, com.au quote the following about the battery life of the Prius-

    “There has been some justifiable concern about the cost of replacing the batteries. Toyota’s manager of alternative fuels and specialised vehicles, Vic Johnstone, concedes the Toyota Prius batteries are built to last less than a decade so the cost of replacement should be taken into account.”

    Do you really think you’d be driving your 121 today if say you were shelling out for your third battery set now at $4500 a pop? The reason you are still driving the 121 is the fact that fuel consumption has not drastically improved once multi-point fuel injection was introduced. Your car was rated at 7.8-6.4L/100km city and country, so you’re driving fairly sensibly by all accounts. The light weight (845kg) helps, but the law of diminishing returns is largely at work nowadays you’ll notice. That’s the problem with the Prius hybrid- increasing cost and sophistication to try and overcome that. On that point you say-

    “But let’s stick with 8-10 as your average battery life replacement. In that time you can fully expect to replace the clutch in the car, and quite possibly have to rebuild the transmission, which together will cost at least $3000. There is also significantly less stress on timing functions in a Prius because the petrol engine does not directly interface with the road in the same way as a standard vehicle. Factor all those things in and the cost of maintaining a normal car over the same period will not be a whole lot cheaper than a Prius, and may in fact be more expensive if the battery in the Prius lasts 15 years as Toyota expects it to.”

    You’re way off beam here and I’ll explain why. The Colt is a new generation automatic just like the Prius and many cars are being fitted with them now. It also sports a ‘Constant Variable Transmission'(Toyota’s ‘Power Split Device’ nomenclature-boy don’t those carmakers keep them coming) and as such is more economical on petrol than it’s manual ES version cousin. What’s more Toyota only has an all over 3 year/100,000km warranty(whichever occurs first) while Mitsi give a 5yr/130,00km one. You can buy an extra 1,2 or 3 years extended one from Toyota. On top of that Mitsi give a 10 year/160,000km ‘power train’ warranty, which means the engine and transmission. That means I won’t be replacing any clutches, motors or transmissions in that time unlike an unlucky Prius owner. On top of their 5 year only warranty batteries(that concurs with Johnstone’s statement), they have to worry about their electric motors, generator, power control unit(inverter/converter) and reduction gearbox here as well http://www.hybridsynergydrive.com/en/series_parallel.html
    Apart from a major reason for choosing the Colt, that’s why I did the comparison over 10 years and 160,00kms, which is reasonable. I wasn’t joking when I said those hybrids will be junk in a decade.(take over here Dreyger)

    Which leads me to your point about having lots of hydro, which I don’t, living in the driest state in the driest continent, with the others catching up fast it seems. You go on damming the rivers for population increase and we’ll dig up uranium and flog it and burn lignite, among other things for our increase. Tasmanians’ possible Prius/Colt/Hyundai diesel tradeoff just might include wind power or carbon offsets for that matter. Whatever, there’s still that matter of weekly running costs, under our current fossil fuel pricing regime. The NRMA shows some running costs at- Hyundai Getz at $120/week (driving 150,000 km a year) and the Colt LS auto $140/wk with the Prius at $200/week and LPG Ford Falcon at $215/week. The Prius is listed as alight car with the Getz and Colt by the way. Now rather than have Treasury decree a one size fits all approach, with a Dept monitoring and deciding what’s best, why not simply rely on a cents per kilometre Prius rate for PS mileage and let them(you decide) ie that’s 52 weeks at $200 divided by 150,000 km for 69.3c/km cf the manual Getz at 41.6, the auto Colt at 48.3, LPG Falcon at 74.6 Let them buy or lease the car of their choice. Would you still buy a Prius under those terms now? Personally, as a market green, I’d prefer to devolve that responsibility to the user, particularly where we raise a tax on carbon, offsetting it with income tax cuts, to assist the decision-making process. Then let the user decide eh? You don’t reckon you’d really take Dreyger’s advice and cop a bit of discomfort in the 121 for work do you? Would you? Hmmm..?

  22. Carbonsink,

    Japan is Japan’s problem. They could very well be the ones who make algal oil work. They have a lot of people far brighter than you and an immense productive capability, not to mention a huge need. They also approach problems with a “can do” philosophy, not an “its all too hard, its impossible, it’ll never work” approach.

  23. Japan is Japan’s problem.

    Oh well, I guess its the end of civilisation for the Japanese then. Do you think they might want to come here?

    The problem for you mate is you continually gloss over the fact that biofuels might, and I stress might, work for 80 million Brazilians and (at a stretch) 20 million Aussies. That leaves about 6.4 billion other people in the poo.

    I’ll tell you how it can work in Japan: Electric vehicles and nukes.

    Now I realise no-one wants to hear that, but densely populated countries like Japan that don’t have the space to grow biofuels, and don’t have much in terms of renewable potential (except perhaps for wind), will go nuclear.

    They have a lot of people far brighter than you…

    At least I’m not delusional!

  24. Observa: The Candadian tar sands will not make any difference to the peak, and it doesn’t matter how much oil they have in the ground. Its not the size of the reserves that matter, its how fast production can be ramped up to meet demand.

    Best estimates for production from the Canadian tar sands is 5 million barrels a day by 2020, up from 1 million bpd today. Currently the world uses ~85 million barrels a day.

    If those crazy peak oilers are right and conventional oil production starts declining by 2-5% p.a. from 2010, then the tar sands will fall well short of making up the difference.

    Of course, you’ll say if things get that bad (and oil is at $200, $300, $500 a barrel) they’ll throw money at the problem and ramp up tar sands production faster. Problem is, they can’t. Partly because tar sands production is very energy and greenhouse intensive, but mainly because there’s not enough water. You can ignore greenhouse issues for a while, but you can’t ignore a lack of water. There is simply not enough water in the rivers to push production much past the 5 million barrels per day planned for 2020.

    Ref:
    Curing oil sands fever
    Alberta’s oil sands threaten water supplies

    If you want a no bullsh*t view of peak oil, and the oil markets generally, then I strongly recommend Robert Rapier’s blog. Suffice to say, Mr Rapier is not a believer in biofuels, oil sands, shale oil, hydrogen or any other boondoggle projects you read about on the intertubes.

  25. Carbonsink,

    Fortunately the Japanese aren’t as limited in their thinking as you appear to be. Neither are the Europeans. The Japanese realise that they do not have to execute their solution on their own soil. It would not work, there, to establish algal oil facilities simply because they do not have the sunshine or the area. That is what Australia has. In all probability Japanese business would build the plants in the Australain interior (most likely Western Australia) and ship the resulting oil to their shores. Just as Europe is establishing CSP plants across the top of Africa for feeding the European electricity grid. The Japanese have a long history with this sort of operation.

    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2007/10/solar-bio-fuels.html

    There are many emerging technologies.

  26. Bio Bill:

    Australia would be flat out supplying its own diesel needs from biodiesel let alone those of 130 million Japanese.

    Australia could capture is vast solar potential far more efficiently with solar thermal and solar PV.

    Algal production of hydrogen?! Do you delight in consistently choosing the least efficent energy option?

  27. Hi Observa,

    Myriad, I appreciate you may well be locked into Govt leasing policies. Recall my advice about taking a marginal analysis to them to- ‘please explain. You seemed to be sticking up for them and I addressed those points as if ‘they’ were making them.

    Not sticking up for them at all. Mainly just a little impatient with the laboriousness of having to try and explain to people what it means when you work for the Commonwealth and Treasury sets the rules on things like car leasing- they are by far the most powerful and conservative dept. It’s frankly a minor miracle that my Dept was able to make an argument for getting Prius, given among other things Treasury had until recently a policy that all govt lease vehicles had to be 80% Australian parts/manufacture, hence the plethora of Holden dinosaurs.

    I’d love to see the policy changed. I did extensive calcluations and research on not only Prius but a couple of the early leader (remember this was 2005) mid-sized diesel models as well, which at the time didn’t stack up. Of course, the even bigger battle will be to get the Commonwealth to do something serious and scientifically credible towards offsetting the massive amounts of carbon produced by government air travel. Let me tell you a story to give you an idea of the mindset:

    The Dept of Environment and Dept of Finance share a beautiful building in Canberra, the John Gorton. Dept. of E had their wings retrofitted with light wells going down to the basement, making it incredibly pleasant, installed water efficient toilets, composting, full recycling, and energy efficient lighting including automatic turnoffs in unused rooms, insulation – the works to make it both energy efficient, minimal waste and truly a joy to work in. They offered to extend the refit to Finance. Finance declined on upfront cost. In the annual calculations of energy use and greenhouse gas generation by Dept, who do you think now costs less to run?

    Back to the Prius and the picking of winners argument.(govts supporting hybrid technology) This is the problem with that sort of precocious thinking

    The new Hyundai looks great. I’ll definitely check it out as my lease runs out in March 08, and see if it’s made the list – thankfully the car lease list has broadened quite a bit since the last attempt.

    But I frankly disagree with you about the innovation side. Think about it. In 2005, there was no new Hyundai, and the only really good performing diesel were luxury cars like Audis in the mid-car range. You can only act in the time and on the information you have. Leasing a Prius in 2005 was and I maintain an excellent decision. It helped stimulate the market, not just for Toyota, but to highlight the fact that people (including major organisations) really were seriously looking for fuel efficient and GG-friendly vehicles. Hyundai and other companies have responded with mid-price efficient diesels; Toyota keeps driving the hybrid vehicle innovation. Win-wins all round.

    I think you have to remember that government, at its best, doesn’t “lock in” on one idea and go with that – in this particular instance, I have as an employee just sufficient enough choice to hopefully be able to review my car lease decision and if there’s a better option than a Prius, happily take it.

    5 years only according to the Toyota salesman and why would he lie if it were 8Yrs? In fact Privatefleet, com.au quote the following about the battery life of the Prius-

    “There has been some justifiable concern about the cost of replacing the batteries. Toyota’s manager of alternative fuels and specialised vehicles, Vic Johnstone, concedes the Toyota Prius batteries are built to last less than a decade so the cost of replacement should be taken into account.�

    First up I don’t think he lied, but my own experience with checking out Prius’ has been that many of the showroom attendants don’t know much about them, and have to keep consulting the specs. I simply think your guy got it wrong. Toyota specifically warranty-s the battery for 8 years. I think that’s worth a lot more than whatever a salesperson said to you.

    Secondly, what year was Johnstone being quoted in? The 2005-06 Prius was a marked improvement on previous models, and from the earlier models the major Toyota focus has been on improving the battery – hence the now warranty (which covers my 06 model btw) of 8 years.

    Do you really think you’d be driving your 121 today if say you were shelling out for your third battery set now at $4500 a pop?

    {digression: he main reason I’m still driving the 121 aside from feeling justified on the calculations of embodied energy etc. is that we simply haven’t been able to contemplate the cost of any new car for the last few years (we moved here in 2003) and the embodied energy/sufficient fuel efficiency was a good reason to focus our finances in other areas, such as some retrofitting of the old hydor house we bought.)

    On the subject of battery life and ongoing maintenance costs, first point -the Prius is not an ‘automatic’ – it is gearless, because of its electric motor. Big difference. I think the problem we’ve got with Prius is that we don’t know yet in terms of real-world testing how long the battery is going to last, so all we can do is disagree – you have an pessimistic view, I an optimistic one. I am comforted by the Canadian cab driver who has been driving Prius since 2000, and has this to say:

    Compared to conventional taxis, his current 2004 Prius saves between $900 and $1,100 per month in fuel costs alone, and his repair bills — thanks to automotive innovations such as regenerative braking, which reduces wear and tear on the brake pads — have been cut by more than half. […]

    Yellow Cab, British Columbia’s largest taxi operation, now counts more than 40 hybrids in its fleet of 210 cars. “We’re currently [planning to convert] approximately 25 to 30 of our vehicles over a year,” Palis tells me from his busy East Vancouver office, where phone lines buzz and drivers saunter in and out to shoot the breeze with their amiable boss. He says customers have, for the most part, been pleased with the ride: “These days, we tend to get two main reactions when they initially get in. They are surprised by the size of the interior — trunk space, leg room, etc. — and they are freaked out by the lack of noise.” That disquieting quiet is a consequence of the vehicle switching over to its battery-operated electric engine when idling or in slow-moving traffic.

    So it would seem that many taxi companies simply don’t agree with you, and they’ve tested it far better than you or I can in ‘hypothetical land’ (you can check out the longer article in Grist that is linked to – please bear in mind that Grist is a sarcastic-humour green site, so when they have captions like ‘the Prius will save us all”, they are poking fun, not being serious.)

    You go on damming the rivers for population increase

    We don’t even use the current dam generative capacity fully, and there is absolutely no suggestion of new dams. Tasmania has huge amounts of coastline and offshore islands facing directly into the Roaring 40s – wind will come next, not more dams.

    As for your other calculations, I agree, ideally Treasury would let people make their argument and get an appropriate car, although I think comparing a Getz, which is the same size as a Toyota Starlet, to a Prius is a false comparison – they might weigh the same, but the Prius is clearly a mid-size vehicle, and Getz is a compact.

    I’d prefer to devolve that responsibility to
    the user, particularly where we raise a tax on carbon, offsetting it with income tax cuts, to assist the decision-making process. Then let the user decide eh? You don’t reckon you’d really take Dreyger’s advice and cop a bit of discomfort in the 121 for work do you? Would you? Hmmm..?

    You rather lost me. I think I’ve made it clear that OH&S issues forced me to a larger car than I expected, given the amount of driving and carrying ‘stuff’ that my job entails. I would love to see a carbon tax – just one of the many reasons I vote green.

    I think the best way I can end this now rather long but informative exchange is to point out again, that my Prius lease will be up in March 08, and I’ll be looking at all the options, not just automatically going the same way again. But what I do know is that for the nearly 2 years I’ve had it, it has completely out-performed in all areas the comparable (in leasing costs/values/size) Subaru Forester and Imprezas two of my colleagues got. I have done nearly twice their mileage for the same petrol costs, had no mechanical difficulties and produced less than half the GG they have. If I can find a comfortable high-performing diesel that out-does the Prius, I’ll be leasing it. I’ll let you know how I do if you like.

  28. Carbonsink,

    You missed the point…………… entirely.
    If the Japanese decide to use Australia for its sunshine, and they have other options (Sahara, Nevada, India, Gobi, more) it will not be Australia producing for Japan, it will be Japan producing for Japan… in Australia. A prominent example of how this works can be seen in the Japanese tourist industry where Souvenier shops are set up, all over the world, entirely for the purposes of selling to Japanese tourists who are bussed to those shops only, for their souvenier purchasing.

    The aluminium smelter in NZ ships most of its production to Japan at cost, the profits that way are transported to Japan. There are endless examples. They learned the technique from the British and the Americans, but they do it much better.

    The algal information is just part of a string of process that can be implement in parallel to maximise the use of solar energy. CSP is a most significant part of all of this but CSP electricity cannot be exported that far conveniently. And, clearly. The principle problem needs to be spelled out to you. T-h-e-r-e a-r-e n-o-t t-h-e r-e-s-o-u-r-c-e-s t-o p-r-o-d-u-c-e e-n-o-u-g-h e-l-e-c-t-r-i-c c-a-r-s i-n t-h-e t-i-m-e a-v-a-i-l-a-b-l-e to offset the worst efects of global warming. All things will be, and are being, undertaken in parallel. Not sequentially. As for the nuclear club? That just got the big knock on the head by the appointed panel of expert scientists. Bye bye nuclear fantasy.

  29. You missed the point…………… entirely.

    No I didn’t. If Australia, or Japan, or anybody, threw billions at algal biodiesel tomorrow, there is next to zero chance Australia could produce enough biodiesel to cover Australia’s current consumption within 20 years. There is absolutely zero chance Australia could produce enough to cover Japan’s current consumption within 20 years.

    The principle problem needs to be spelled out to you. T-h-e-r-e a-r-e n-o-t t-h-e r-e-s-o-u-r-c-e-s t-o p-r-o-d-u-c-e e-n-o-u-g-h e-l-e-c-t-r-i-c c-a-r-s i-n t-h-e t-i-m-e a-v-a-i-l-a-b-l-e to offset the worst efects of global warming.

    Perhaps this principle needs to be spelled out to you:
    Biofuels have negligible effect on reducing greenhouse emissions

    We can either:
    1. Start electrifying our entire ground transportation infrastructure
    2. Start planting out 50% or more of the world’s arable land with biofuels.

    Both seem like mammoth tasks to me, and we might (probably?) don’t have time to complete either.

    But what we should really be doing before any of this is taxing the crap out of carbon, so you can invest in biofuels (and lose all your money) and I can invest in EVs, and become stupendously wealthy 🙂

  30. Carbonsink,

    You are making statements that have only one supportable argument, and that is that “it” has never been done before.

    “We can either:”

    and this is the main flaw in all of your arguments. You seem to have difficulty with the concept that all options will be engaged simultaneously.

    It seems to me that Myriad is the only one here who has taken any affirmative action. But I might be wrong. Carbonsink, are you driving around in an all electric vehicle?

  31. Bilb,

    It’s got to that stage where from my point of view your ideas and knowledge are so far from what’s either fact, accepted or accurate that discussing with you involves having to ‘start from the very beginning’, and that’s more time than I’ve got.

    When you write stuff like

    The crops that you are talking about are the storable, transportable crops (grains, cereals, whatever). These are the crops that are seen as being essential for survival. The tropical crops tend to be of the immediate consumption kind.

    I can only shake my head. So you’re happy to subsist on a diet without any fresh fruit or vegetables are you?

    However I am taking a longer term view of the potential environmental outcomes and consider more radical possibilities than you seem to be prepared to do.

    Thinking radically is great. It’s just good to start with a solid foundational understanding of the system you’re working with, and this you simply don’t have.

    And then when you write stuff like this:

    Australia has boundless energy available, and because of this there are alternatives when it comes to water sources.

    It doubly confirms it. Desalination is very expensive, produces greenhouse gases, creates massive amounts of waste salt, has major repercussions for marine ecosystems (why does everyone think the ocean is a bottomless source and sink?), and the cost of piping desalinised water for agricultural irrigation purposes alone would be completely prohibitive. Take a look at the ANWRA document you linked to again, and the volumes of water irrigated agriculture needs. On top of that, irrigated agriculture is one of the most difficult for us to manage in terms of its overall impact – in particular it has exacerbated salinity.

    I don’t care how Lindenmayer is perceived. Australian history is littered with expert opinion that has led to disaster. Taking inflexible technical positions is the basis for stagnation at this most dynamic of times. That is not to say that he his is not the most valid of knowledge bases. This is a time to leave no possibility unconsidered.

    Ok, you’ve got more contradictions and assumptions in there than I can deal with. How about you actually READ Lindenmayer?

    Commercial viability of land use? The reality is that cane ethanol wins hands down. Cane farmers get their income as a two thirds share of the product yield. So the cane farmers selling to the sugar mill have been getting $25 per tonne for their cane, but the cane farmers selling their cane to the ethanol plant are now getting $45 per tonne. It is profitable to the extent that they are about to install the latest technology from Brazil.

    I love a big circular argument. This is precisely where we started, with me pointing out that large-scale biofuel cropping threatened the viability and availability of agricultural land for food production. Now you’ve just confirmed that we’re heading this way – which is precisely what I was pointing out was a major risk. Dizzy yet?

    What I said was

    it’s reasonable to presume that farmer would still like to make a living in return for what they do. It’s also reasonable to assume that as a nation we’d like to eat as a first priority.

    In other words we need to a) secure our food security first and b) part of doing that will mean ensuring that farmers are paid a viable living so that c) we don’t end up watching all our best and very sparse agricultural land turned into biofuel cropping.

    What you still can’t seem to get your head around is that our land is limited, our water also, and the current farming methods we use, which you want to exacerbate with massive monocropping, are having very detrimental effects on our land’s sustainability for any agriculture, and are far too heavily reliant on fossil fuel inputs. And climate change is going to make all those issues worse – it’s already starting to.

    You want to take what little land and what we have, convert vast swathes of it to biofuel production which will require massive fossil fuel inputs (caught the irony yet?) and more water than we have in a system of diminishing and less reliable supply, and severely limit our food production capacity.

    but then it is behoven on you to offer a workable alternative.

    Um, where? Obviously I don’t have the same rule book. I’m quite within my rights to point out why your argument is fundamentally flawed, without having to have the magic alternative bullet. I don’t even have magic beans.

    Frankly I don’t think there is a single solution or set of solutions that is going to see us keep going with minimal disruption. In terms of food, we are going to have to rapidly convert to organic-style farming systems that don’t require fossil fuel inputs, and radically improve our water efficiency.

    In terms of transport, I suspect we’ll end up with a mix of everything from hydrogen (see the Perth bus trial) to electric to some localised biofuels; and overall I think we’ll see (if we’re smart) much more effective and much more utilised public transport systems, and a strong shift away from the ingrained assumption that we all need a car.

    What I do know is that mass-biofuel crop production makes very little sense, and is very little supported except by those with strong vested interests – which I’m not accusing you of, but like the nuclear industry, every ‘new’ technology always has its fans.

  32. It seems to me that Myriad is the only one here who has taken any affirmative action. But I might be wrong. Carbonsink, are you driving around in an all electric vehicle?

    No, I drive a diesel that does better than 5L/100km in most situations. I have solar hot water, I have 100% GreenPower, and I’ve planted around 500 native trees in and around my property.

    There’s much, much more I can do, but its a beginning.

  33. Myriad, OK, now we’re getting down to the finer points of engineering and since you appear to have more interest than Treasury in these matters, here’s a bit more to chew on.

    You’re actually part right about the Prius’ power split device(which is actually a planetary gear device) shown here
    http://www.hybridsynergydrive.com/en/power_split_device.html
    and a continuously variable transmission described here
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuously_variable_transmission#New_automobiles_equipped_with_CVT
    The wiki article specifically differentiates the effective hybrid type (planetary geared system due to the electric petrol split) and various true CVTs attached to one power source. If you scroll down to current vehicles fitted with an ‘effective’ CVT, you will see the MIVEC Colt and Prius listed. As well their is a 5l V8 Lexus listed and traditionally it was the conventional wisdom that CVTs were only suitable for low power transmission. Clearly that has all changed with technology now. In choosing a CVT Colt, I was aware of the benefits of CVT, but did not want to be a pioneering guinea pig. However the 160k/10yr ‘power train’ warranty eased my concerns on that account. The Lexus fitment should too.

    Now we have to be careful about using the manufacturer’s fuel ratings as this shows
    http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money-savers/article.html?in_article_id=411387&in_page_id=5
    The Prius larger drop here can well be due to the degree of country driving in the road test, where the benefit of storing braking energy is lost. In that respect your specific requirement might be a simpler, cheaper diesel(less implicit carbon and resources and bear in mind petrol needs more refining than diesel), whereas the for the taxi industry, the Prius makes good economic sense. Lots of stop start urban driving and with mileages of say 300-500,000km over 10 years, the higher sunk cost ie dollars worth of extra technology in the batteries, etc(really implicit carbon and resources) is more easily amortised, than for my wife’s casual running (hence the specific solar to the grid tradeoff value)That’s why I would always favour individual user choice over, one size fits all, solutions from on high. Specifically you should consider the latest diesel options next year and impress your reasons why on the powers that be quite soon.(they need time to digest and embrace change)Also they might need to consider the possible cost of pioneering new and very sophisticated technology like some are beginning to in the big apple
    http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2007/09/prius_accelerate.html

  34. Myriad,

    As I travel around this country I see thousands of square kilometres of underutilised prime farmable land. You’re really stretching it to suggest that the new dryer Australia will be struggling to feed itself. The only real threats to Australian farmering, even with global warming, are failure at regional planning and Woolworths.

    You obviously didn’t absorb the CSP (solar) desalination information (or didn’t understand it), and definitely have a limited understanding of what is possible to be achieved with an innovative outlook.

    I think that we will just have to agree to disagree.

  35. It’s got to that stage where from my point of view your ideas and knowledge are so far from what’s either fact, accepted or accurate that discussing with you involves having to ’start from the very beginning’, and that’s more time than I’ve got.

    Ahh Myriad, you’ve finally arrived at the place I’ve been with BilB for some months. Honestly, its like arguing with a hard core climate change denialist.

  36. Carbonsink,

    Myriad contradicts herself consistently, as do you. It is easy to see by the traffic on your blogspot how popular your view is.

  37. Bizarre comment. I’ve updated that blog about twice in 12 months. I’m not the slighest bit concerned about how many people visit it.

    All the comments Myriad has made have been perfectly consistent and reasonable.

  38. Hi Observa,

    My manual’s over with the car so I can’t check it, but what I can tell you is I’ve never been told I need to do anything specific for the battery if not using the car for prolonged periods (it’s serviced by Toyota), and I’ve left the car for just under a month when I was on leave without it being driven, and my colleague who also has the same model has done similar, no issues. I note that the guy in the article’s Prius was a 2001 model – the models from 2003 on had significant improvements (something that’s reflected in the resell value btw).

    I wasn’t actually expecting the next gen. of Prius to be out by March next year, so it will be very interesting to see what’s available in the way of fuel efficient diesel options and the like and how they stack up.

    cheers.

  39. Bilb,

    I work in water policy. I’d make a polite small bet with you that I understand desal options far better than your average punter. I’ve seen the Aqua CSP before, and I’ve the first paper

    A number of points:

    the project has so far not touched on how to deal with waste salt, which is a significant issue, particularly if you are talking about generating so much freshwater. It also has not quantified the impact of extracting so much water from near coastal environs. Google ‘desalination impacts’ and you’ll find multiple studies pointing to serious environmental impacts that become increasingly difficult to manage as the scale of desalination and the number of sub-optimal sites utilised increases.

    The project still forecasts a 15 year time gap to get such technology fully operational starting from zero capacty for MENA countries, which is also the same situation in Australia. You’re proposing converting large parts of Australia’s arable land to biofuel production in the meantime. Explain. (And pardon me if from your previous posts I suggest you are not particularly qualified to know what is “thousands of acres of under-utilised prime agricultural land”.)

    The MENA countries have a vastly better distance ratio of coastline to land – which means piping water vast distances is far less of an issue than it is here. There is a reason why a lot of infrastructure that is possible in other nations is not viable here; we have a comparably small population base in a country the size of the USA, and a range of extreme conditions to deal with. Different kettle of fish to the MENA bunch.

    the MENA countries have rapidly expanding populations, Australia does not; on top of that we are on the cusp of having a long-overdue conversation in Australia with regard to how many people this continent, the driest inhabited and most poorly soiled one around, can sustainably support. If you want some idea of what Australia could look like with increased irrigation and population, I recommend having a look at the fertile crescent – have a think about why it was called that a few thousand years ago, and what it looks like now. Our questions for the future & concomitant needs are therefore very different.

    Putting aside water / land /food issues for a second, I find it more than a little intriguing that you’d be suggesting a dual baseload-energy & water producing technology, and still think biofuels are necessary. Solar thermal is a very appealing technology, and certainly Rob Blakers’ work at ANU along with others shows it’s basically ready to take on baseload generation – which begs the question as to why we wouldn’t simply change our transport options over to all-electric and bypass biofuels.

  40. Myriad,

    Last paragraph. Its a timing thing. If Australia committed to 60 gigawatts of CSP/CPV capacity today it would probably 25 years before the last of that plant was operational. Of course wind power would be increasing in capacity as would geothermal along with sundry alternatives. Beside that there would (hopefully) be an increasing availability of electric vehicles. So there would be at least 25 years of progressively declining dependence on petrol powered vehicles. Those same 25 years are the crucial ones in which it would be better to have CO2 emissions undercontrol. It will really be a case of all hands to the pumps. Land useage is the more flexible of the options. If it is important enough cane fields can be converted (after resting and restoration) to other strategically important uses by legislation. Massive infrastructure such as significantly sized power generation takes far longer to implement (purchasing of turbines have at least a 2 year lead time).

    On the salt issue. Definitely a problem. My unresearched thinking out loud proposal was to drill a tunnel under the Dividing Range to the inner west for the supply and return of salt water as well as the fresh water supply to Sydney. A massive undertaking and possibly impractical. But no less impractical than piping liquid CO2 thousands of kilometers around the country from power plants to sink sites. We are in this new scenario for the long haul.

    It is unclear from that CSP Aqua introduction what size plant yields the 3 megalitres a day that they are talking of. One would hope a fairly small one because 3 megalitres are not going to go very far. Does the information that you have give a reference of collector area to water yield? If not you can phone Franz Trieb around 6.00pm most days and get him at his desk.

    The time gap issue is purely political. The companies building the equipment have based all of their pricing and projections on pilot plant size. One (50 megawatts) or two square kilometres at a time. California is the first State to be talking of gigawatt size installations. If Australia were to decide to make a significant commitment to solar thermal (ie 6 gigawatts at at time) then the mirror plant would be built in the near proximity to the installations. It might even make sense to build a steel rolling mill nearby. This all dramatically alters the costing of the facilities.

    As you point out farming returns are the major obstacle to proper land use. Of the farmers that I know there are many ways for using their land. But cultivation carries such risky returns that most default to feeding up calves and justifying their holdings on those returns. But an interesting case is a friend who is establishing a farm in Dungog. I am watching his efforts closely. So much of the land in the Sydney basin has been rendered unfarmable by its realestate value. Other huge chunks are given over to mining (Hunter valley coal now 600 square kilometres large). Even in the inner west enthusiasm for farming appears to have wained, largely due, I suspect, to the ever reducing block size driven by the rising land values. Cropping and orchards are becoming harder to find. It is not because the land is not available. If you wanted to pick on an unsupportable industry pick on cotton. I have a design for tunnel greenhouses that are cultivated from above by automatic machines that unzip the greenhouse as they move along and close the tunnel as the move pass. Is it practical? It hasn’t been tried but I suspect that cotton might be a good candidate to cost out and experiment with. Main reason is for better water control and reduced need for pesticides (maybe).

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