A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).



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Yarloop fire: History repeats — in 1961, a 41 day inferno destroyed 160 buildings and burned a larger area in South-West WA

Fires this week in South West WA have caused two deaths,  burned 72,000 hectares and destroyed 143 homes, wiping out 80% Yarloop. But it’s all happened before, and the fires were bigger, worse, and burned a larger area. The ABC have described the infamous fires of 1961 before, but there doesn’t seem to be any mention of the history of these historic fires in their current news. Surely it’s relevant? No one at the $1 billion dollar agency did the internet search that an unfunded blogger did.

Dwellingup, 1961

Dwellingup, January 1961

In January 1961 the remnants of cyclones meant dry thunderstorms lit fires in the hot dry South West of Western Australia. Ten separate fires began in the same area near Dwellingup. They wiped 60 year old small timber towns off the map, and razed 123 houses.  Over the next 41 days, fires continued to burn, destroying 160 buildings and burning through hundreds of thousands of hectares of land (134,000 hectares in the Dwellingup Fire, but 1.5 million hectares burned in SW WA that summer -PDF ). The damage bill would come to $35 million. Somehow, incredibly, no lives were lost.

The fires of 1961 in South [...]

EU scientists say Volcanoes, Asteroids are unimaginably worse than climate change

Experts say that climate change is the worst threat we face, except for the worse ones.

Scientists warn over super-volcano threat

Experts at the European Science Foundation said volcanoes – especially super-volcanoes like the one at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, which has a caldera measuring 34 by 45 miles (55 by 72 km) – pose more threat to Earth and the survival of humans than asteroids, earthquakes, nuclear war and global warming.

What could be worse than 1.5 degrees of warming?

[After] … a major eruption, the team said, millions of people would die and earth’s atmosphere would be poisoned with ash and other toxins “beyond the imagination of anything man’s activity and global warming could do over 1,000 years.

We are talking about an “extinction-level event”:

Experts at the European Science Foundation said volcanoes – especially super-volcanoes like the one at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, which has a caldera measuring 34 by 45 miles (55 by 72 km) – pose more threat to Earth and the survival of humans than asteroids, earthquakes, nuclear war and global warming.

But the UN and Obama will save us right?

There are few real contingency [...]

Nevada reversal: solar earnings rate drops from 12c to 2c — May “destroy rooftop solar power”

If only solar generation was affordable?

In Nevada there is a lot of sunlight and a lot of solar panels, but they generate electricity at a cost of 25 – 30c per kWhr. With subsidies and tax benefits, the cost “falls” to 15c. (In this context,  the word “falls” means “is dropped on other people”.)  But the retail rate for electricity is 12.5c.  So having solar panels doesn’t help you much unless you can sell that excess electricity, which the state of Nevada was buying at 12.5c. That price sounds fine and dandy til we find out that they could have bought the same electricity at wholesale rate of around two cents.

So Nevada has decided that’s what the state will pay… 2c, not 12.5c. The latest decision is to apply normal free market rules. Nevada will now pay wholesale rates for electricity. No more shopping for boutique electrons.

Taking into account all the tax cuts, subsidies and total costs, who would have thought that paying 15 times the wholesale rate for electricity would be economically unsustainable?

Battles Over Net Metering Cloud the Future of Rooftop Solar

One of the fastest-growing markets for residential solar, Nevada is the [...]

Another way life adapts to climate change: fathers pass on climate lessons through epigenetics

Life on Earth is proving to be so uncannily adaptive to climate change, you’d almost think that a half a billion years of climate change mattered. Perhaps the precambrian clutter is not just junk, but handy tools from past lives that we may or may not need to use. Last week it was salt-water fish that got cast out of the sea by an Earthquake, and adapted to fresh water.

Stick male guinea pigs into a zone a full ten degrees hotter, and after a couple of months, his future sons and daughters will be better adapted to hot weather. Thank epi-genetics: the genes don’t change, but some get labelled “hot”, some  not. Dad’s body sticks methyl groups on choice genes which upregulates them, and the pattern of activation gets passed on in genes. It’s a way of taking his lessons in life and giving his offspring a head start.

In any case, it appears in guinea pigs that there not only can this mammal cope with changes in the climate on a daily and seasonal basis, but the machiney is in place to cope with longer term changes too.

Like father like son: Epigenetics in wild guinea [...]

Australians don’t want to pay more for Green-power. What was a pitiful 1% of the grid, shrank by half.

What could possibly go wrong? According to badly done, ambiguous surveys, everyone in Australia “loves” green energy, and believes in climate change. But according to actual payments, hardly anyone wants to cough up any cash for it, (unless the government is waving a big stick). Poor Greenpower appears to have gotten its business advice from the ABC, or the CSIRO.

How much of the Australian grid is voluntarily green? Would that be 28% (our target for 2030)? Nope. It’s not even five percent. Instead a mere one electron in every 200 is voluntarily “green”. It’s a pathetic half a percent.

All Australians are free to pay an extra 5 or 6 cents per kilowatt to get their energy “green” from GreenPower. But even at the height of the 2008 -Gore-Rudd era only 1% of all the electricity was bought up by green consumers willing to voluntarily pay more for “clean” energy. Since then, though the volunteers have left in droves.

But I’m sure the Greens are happy. They always wanted a free market solution.

Speaking of free markets, I say let’s have more. How about we allow people the choice to buy dirty energy too.  I want pure coal fired [...]

NOAA scientists admit in private that they can’t name any place affected by ocean acidification

There’s the truth, then there’s the whole truth.

From a climate expert at NOAA, the study of ocean acidification is so young “they don’t have any data sets that show a direct effect of OA on population health” and they can’t name any place in the world that is definitely affected by it.

Steve Milloy at FOI’d emails among NOAA scientists discussing a NY times op-ed draft.The editor was serving up an apocalyse:

…and he wanted all the dirt:

Can the authors give us more specific, descriptive images about how acidification has already affected the oceans?

Tony Thomas writes that Dr Shallin Busch, who works for NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program discussed the draft of the article with fellow scientist Ms Applebaum. She warns that they can’t say that OA (Ocean Acidification) was definitely a problem anywhere at the moment:

Unfortunately, I can’t provide this information to you because it doesn’t exist. As I said in my last email, currently there are NO areas of the world that are severely degraded because of OA or even areas that we know are definitely affected by OA right now. If you want to use this type of [...]

Weekend Unthreaded

Carbon causes PTSD (Stressed, anxious, violent? Blame climate change)

Once there were no storms, the climate was perfect and everyone was nice to each other. Then people got air conditioners to make the climate even more perfect, and God was not happy. Along came droughts, floods and plagues and everyone got post traumatic stress disorder.

Humans are just not designed to live in a world where the seas rise 1mm a year. (What,we can’t run fast enough?)

The news on our mental health is dire according to a report from the National Wildlife Foundation (on climate change only the Experts are right, but in other fields, anyone can have a stab, right?).

 In America, 200 Million People Will Suffer ‘Psychological Distress’ From Climate Change

So Grok hid in a cave and made it through an ice age, but the modern pajama-boy will have a panic attack if the world warms by one degree.

Hands up who wants a paleolithic health-plan? Their babies died of dysentery. They ate snake soup or they starved, but somehow the tough-nuts who survived evolved into Five Star Pansies.

“The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States,” examines the hitherto undiscussed effects of increasingly prevalent extreme weather, sea level rise, drought [...]

Happy New Year 2016

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