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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Who says scientists don’t do it to get rich? Queensland climate expert in court over $500k in false expenses

Dr Daniel Michael Alongi, 59, is accused of taking over half a million dollars in federal funds over the last seven years. The carbon sequestration, mangrove, reef, eco-expert has admitted he made false invoices to claim federal funds (Courier Mail, paywalled). He is in court on Jan 18th. The alleged sum is the rather impressive $556,000.  His superannuation of $900k, and $80k in long service leave, has been frozen. (Nice work… )

I’m glad his financial accounts are being audited. But far more public money is potentially “hijacked” thanks to scientific accounts, let’s start auditing them too. When people claim a nation has warmed by 0.9 degrees we want the original receipts, not the ones they readjusted (and we need independent auditors and systematic methods, not “secret instructions”).

“The Science” has become “the loophole” where nearly any friend of big gov can get a hand in the treasury-bag.

There are reasons you aren’t allowed to pal review your tax return.

[Courier Mail] Alongi, who was well regarded in the science industry, allegedly pretended he was paying for “radioisotopes” imported from the US and to have samples analysed in US laboratories for his Great Barrier Reef research.

He told his boss he could “get a discount” on isotopes because he was a US citizen, and he claimed he was measuring carbon levels in “sediment core samples” taken from the Reef.

He has admitted to police that he made false invoices, credit card statements and created fake email trails to claim expenses over seven years, court documents state …

More info from The Townsville Bulletin Sept 15th.

He was charged with obtaining a financial advantage from a Commonwealth entity, namely AIMS, by deception.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment.

Keep reading  →

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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.

Bushfire, Dwellingup, South West, Western Australia, damage.

Dwellingup, 1961

Bushfire, South West, WA, 1961, Dwellingup destroyed.

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 West Western Australia:

“Temperatures soared to 41C and winds of 60km/hr whipped” the South West.

“Dwellingup sustained considerable damage and had to be virtually rebuilt.

Not so lucky were the small mill communities of Holyoake, Nanga Brook, Marrinup and Banksiadale which were literally wiped off the map. In fact, following the fires, a decision was made not to rebuild these towns.”

South West WA is one of the most fire prone regions of the world, says Bushfire CRC:

South-west Western Australia is one of the most fire-prone regions in the world due to the combination of a Mediterranean-type climate with hot dry summers and the presence of large areas of flammable native vegetation. It is also a biodiversity hotspot where the role of fire is key. Prescribed fire has been used extensively in forest landscapes since the 1960s to mitigate the impacts of bushfires on the community and on environmental values including biodiversity. The ecological implications of prescribed burning, however, remain contentious.

The response to the 1961 devastation was to have a Royal Commission, get radio equipment, and do better prescribed burning.

Prescribed burning in WA became a serious ongoing practice after these shocking 1961 fires and continued until the mid 1990s, but has been reduced in the last two decades. (See below for details).

A group called Bush Fire Front (BFF) describe problems with forest management in WA, pointing out that there were not many major problems from 1962 – 1985 because WA had such an active fire management plan. It was tested when Cyclone Alby swept through WA in April 1978 with winds of up to 130km hour, the lightning igniting as many as 65 wildfires. Despite this extreme situation, the total damage was much lower than either 1961 or 2016 fires because the area was so well prepared with reduced fuel loads.  The BFF page (below) may be a few years out of date, I suspect burning off has increased in the last few years, but this is the kind of discussion and the numbers we should be discussing. Where are the investigative journalists at the ABC or the West Australian?

DEC fire management on its forested land in the South West is inadequate because:

  1. Fuel reduction burning cycles are too long
  2. The annual burning target is too low.

    1. DEC has an annual target of 200,000 ha for a forest estate of about 2,500,000 ha, which gives an average burning cycle of 12 years. Despite that overall figure there are significant areas of forest carrying fuels older than 20 years. BFF believes that the negligible wildfire losses of the 1961-1985 period, where the average area burnt each year was about 300,000 ha, indicates that a figure closer to that area is necessary to provide adequate protection against major wildfires.
  3. They cannot reach their annual target anyway
    1. From 2000 to 2008, the average area of burning each year by DEC was 149,000 ha This means that in the period 2000-2008 alone, the backlog of burning was over 400,000 ha. This backlog will never be made up, so the outlook is for steadily increasing fuel loads in our forests, therefore steadily increasing fire hazards.
  4. Their burn planning processes are too complex
  5. Implementation of burns is ineffective
  6. Smoke minimisation procedures severely limit the amount of burning close to the Metropolitan area
  7.  Reserves managed by DEC such as the regional parks, receive very little active fire management.

In January 2014, Peter Law, The Sunday Times (, warned that there was too much unburned forest in WA with a high “fuel age”. Small controlled cool burning fires are easy to manage in forest that has been recently burned, but once the forest has seven years of fuel buildup, even controlled burns become risky.

Fuel Age of WA forests, fire risk.

Areas of SW WA which had not been subject to prescribed burning in the last seven years, as of July 2013

The map reveals the build-up of fuel – combustible trees, shrub and ground litter – aged over seven years near Perth and in the South-West.

As of last July, there was almost 2.1 million hectares of fuel aged seven years and older across WA, the paper reveals. Fuel aged under six years spanned 944,000ha.

Bushfire Front chairman Roger Underwood described the accumulation of older fuel – about eight tonnes per hectare – near poorly prepared residential areas as WA’s “ticking time bomb”.

“This map demonstrates that 80% of South-West forests and national parks are now in a situation where firefighters will not be able to tackle or surpress a fire even in moderate conditions because of the very heavy fuels,” Mr Underwood said.

In 2012/13, DPaW achieved just 23,648ha of its annual prescribed burn target of 200,000ha in the South-West.

This is the age it becomes almost impossible to control on even average summer conditions – let alone catastrophic days with soaring temperatures and fast winds.

“DPaW said its prescribed burning program is governed by a number of factors, including weather conditions.

“However, over the past 20 years, the department has met 79 per cent of its cumulative annual target,” a spokeswoman said.”

Current government fire management just does not understand the reasons that fires get “beyond control”. Here’s the current Dept of Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner saying that nothing could have stopped this damage. There is no mention of fuel loads:

DFES Commissioner Wayne Gregson…

“Over the past four or five days we have been at full-on war with mother nature, I’m told we have not seen a firestorm of this magnitude, in terms of the size,” he told 6PR radio on Monday.

Mr Gregson said residents were told not to stay to defend their properties without a plan and to not rely on the local water and electricity supply, adding the blaze could not be defended with a garden hose.

“I sometimes think people don’t recognise the enormity of the fire front,” he said.

“I don’t believe anything could have stopped that fire impacting Yarloop.

“Fires get to a point where they just cannot be defended, either from a frontal attack or by the air.”

Yes, they get too big to defend when we haven’t done the burning off to reduce fuel loads. The fire boss is being criticized for all kinds of things, but the real problem that we ought to be trying to prevent the uncontrollable fires in the first place.

We keep learning the same lessons

Nearly 70 years ago, even the Women’s Weekly understood we needed to clear the underbrush.   The December 1957 issue warned that Australia’s worst enemies are fire and flood, and people keep forgetting to prepare for them.

Keep reading  →

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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 plans in place to deal with the ticking time bomb, which they conclude is likely to go off within the next 80 years.

40,000 people met in Paris last month to solve the greatest threat to Life On Earth.

The chance of such as eruption happening at one of the major volcanoes within 80 years is put at five to ten per cent by the experts.

Looks like there’s a 90% consensus that we don’t have to do anything?

The report makes for interesting reading (perfect for disaster-nerds, and catastrophe-spotters). This is not just about supervolcanoes, but asteroids, Spanish flu, and Ebola too.

Keep reading  →

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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 first state to drastically revise its policies on net metering—wherein owners of residential solar arrays are compensated for the power they send onto the utility power grid, usually at retail rates. All but a handful of states have instituted net metering. Claiming that these fees represent an unfair transfer of costs to the utilities and non-solar customers, utilities have mounted a well-funded campaign to reduce or eliminate the payments. The Nevada Public Utilities Commission concurred, calling on utilities to cut the compensation for solar providers from retail to wholesale rates.

 Naturally, this has been a campaign by utility companies. Residents would not be expected to protest against high electricity prices.

Not surprisingly, the solar industry disagrees. Calling the net metering decision “unethical, unprecedented, and possibly unlawful,” SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive predicted that it will “destroy the rooftop solar industry in one of the states with the most sunshine.”

Rive missed how people who want fair market rates for solar power are not just unethical, and unlawful, but ugly selfish and funded by fossils.  Listen to Leonardo,  whatever you do, don’t date them.

Events in Nevada, though, could signal a major reshaping of the eonomics of solar power for homeowners. The retail rate of electricity in Nevada is 12.39 cents per kilowatt-hour; the wholesale price for electricity in the region that includes Nevada averaged around two cents per kilowatt-hour in December. According to a report from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, the cost of a residential solar system has fallen to around 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour.




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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 pigs

Fathers are able to adjust to increasing temperatures within their own lifetime and do transmit this information to their offspring. This has now been shown for the first time in a wild animal. The findings were the result of a project within the Joint Initiative for Research and Innovation and have been published in the scientific journal Molecular Ecology.

Male wild guinea pigs respond to increasing temperatures with biochemical modifications attached to their genome and pass this “epigenetic” information to the next generation, and most likely even the following one.

Keep reading  →

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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 electrons delivered direct, and I’m willing to pay for it. ;-)   (How does 10 cents per KWhr sound? )

Climate change fatigue, cost hits renewable GreenPower scheme

The Australian

A scheme under which people volunteer to pay more for renewable energy is losing customers and sales as the price of a green conscience rises dramatically.

GreenPower, a scheme run by state governments in which people and businesses pay more for their power to buy non-fossil-fuel electricity, has been hit by up to a 40 per cent increase in cost as retailers pass on the rising price of large-scale renewable energy certificates.

Retailers have increased their prices for GreenPower, ranging from 5.23c to 6.6c per kWh.

The scheme has gone from more than 900,000 customers in 2008 who bought about 1 per cent of total generation to just over 500,000 who bought just 0.6 per cent of all the electricity generated in 2013.  Since, sales have dropped a further 21 per cent.

 Some will say that the massive uptake of solar panels is voluntary green power, but without the government payments forced from taxpayers, how many solar panels would have been “voluntarily” bought?

In this case, a UTS researcher doesn’t even see any difference between paying more, or taking more:

A report by UTS’s Institute of Sustainable Futures for the NSW Department of Resources and Energy — which administers the scheme on behalf of all the states — said the rise in roof- top solar panels had contributed to the demise of GreenPower. “It seems that once customers have ‘done their bit’ by paying for solar PV, they no longer see the need to pay extra for GreenPower.”

People aren’t getting solar to “do their bit”. They choose solar because the government was paying them too. Or more accurately, they choose solar because it’s the only way out of paying exorbitant electricity prices in a market managed by bureucrats.


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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:

NY Times, ocean acidification, headline

…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 language, you could write about the CO2 vent sites in Italy or Polynesia as examples of things to come. Sorry that I can’t be more helpful on this!

Busch admits that ocean acidification studies are immature, and the evidence is not there “yet”:

2) I think it is really important to resist the NYT editor’s impulse to say that OA is wreaking all sorts of havoc RIGHT NOW, because for ecological systems, we don’t yet have the evidence to say that. OA is a problem today because it is changing ocean chemistry so quickly. The vast majority of the biological impacts of OA will only occur under projected future chemistry conditions. Also, the study of the biological impacts of OA is so young that we don’t have any data sets that show a direct effect of OA on population health or trajectory. Best, Shallin..[4]

It’s good that Busch is trying to make the article more accurate, but when she does public Q and A’s on ocean acidification  she doesn’t say things quite the same way:

NF: What is the single most important thing for people to know about ocean acidification?

SB: That ocean acidification is a problem for today, not just for the future. We know from earth’s history and from experiments that we’re doing in the lab that many marine species are sensitive to changes in ocean chemistry. So, acidification is a problem for marine ecosystems. We can take that a step further and say, well, why should we care about marine ecosystems? First of all, many societies value biodiversity.  Furthermore, acidification’s potential effects on marine ecosystems are an economic concern. Acidification may impact fisheries and the jobs and revenue that depend on fisheries. This may raise food security issues. Ocean acidification is an environmental problem, it’s a potential economic issue, and it’s a potential food security issue. And it’s all those things today, not some distant day in the future.

Busch is probably speaking only her honest convictions, but we need more from scientists. It’s not enough to be technically correct, we need scientists who convey what we don’t know, what the present state is, and provide the uncertainties in the same terms, no matter who the audience is.

If scientists think headlines are gratuitous and exaggerated, they need to say so publicly. If editors are not publicly shamed for the hype, they will keep doing it.

Art Robinson discussed the special kind of honesty required for science:

At Caltech, in the 1950s and 1960s, intellectual honesty was rigorously taught – by example. There were no courses in this. The student was simply surrounded by people who always approached their work with complete honesty. Dishonesty in any action meant immediate expulsion from the campus by one’s peers. Sadly, this is no longer the case at Caltech today.

When a true scientist makes a statement to his nonscientist fellow citizens, he speaks only the truth as he perceives it and as it has been verified – not by hypothesis or by computer simulations, but by actual experiments and observations. Moreover, he strives to simultaneously express all of the weaknesses his statement may have as a result of the always limited data available and the ever present chance that his hypothetical interpretation of that data may be in error.

What was science is now grantmanship:

Gradually, over the next two generations, the private capital that had heretofore funded science, endowed scientific institutions and provided the intellectual freedom that is crucially important to successful scientific enquiry was seized through taxation and part of it was then passed to scientists in government “grants” and contracts.

Grantsmanship gradually became the most important “scientific” skill, and the amount of grant money a scientist commands is now, in most institutions, the most important parameter that determines his advancement. The new “scientist” rushes from meeting to meeting, furiously writes grant proposals, and strives to obtain news coverage of his latest “discoveries,” while leaving the actual research to technicians and students.

If scientists were telling the whole truth all the time, they wouldn’t mind if the public saw more of their emails.

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Weekend Unthreaded

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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 and other impacts of climate change on mental health. How will we cope with a changing world?

But really cyclones were so much more fun when we lived in bark-huts. No one cared if the house blew away — they just popped up another one. It was like that with babies too right?

The climate hasn’t changed in the last 18 years, imagine the damage that sort of “change” can do? Seems more likely to cause  deep disillusionment as so many heroes turned out to be gullible patsies or people on the take. There’s a scenario for depression when today’s teen finds out the ABC, the CSIRO and “profs” were all selling schemes to change the weather  which had no chance of success.

Since we’re talking about mental suffering, how about the stress caused right now to sufferers of real PTSD whose condition is now being used for political points. “I got my PTSD because it didn’t rain, how about you?”

Are you feeling uneasy? It could be the first signs of Climate change.

H.t Climate Depot, and see also Eric Worrall at WUWT.

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Happy New Year 2016

Feel free to document your predictions here…

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