Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Photoblog up and running!!

Finally!! Have taken a few holiday snaps of Kangaroo Island to get things started. Still some formatting to do (it's exactley the same as this blog). First time I've seen Australian Sea Lions - are they cute or what?

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Monday, January 29, 2007

A problem greater than climate change?

In order for a global challenge to be overcome, global acceptance of the reality of the challenge is essential. Initially, whether a problem is real or merely an artifact must be ascertained. If it can be shown that not solving the identified problem is more costly than solving it, global action becomes essential. Fairly self evident, really.

As the potentially devastating consequences of climate change become apparent, I’m more optimistic then in the past that we will produce effective solutions. Why? Because the reality of climate change is now understood not just by scientists alone, but by politicians, business leaders and the general population. When humanity focuses on a problem, when its reality is accepted, we’ve a pretty good chance of a relatively successful solution. Obviously when a problem isn’t identified, or it’s ignored, or vested interests obfuscate and delay action, effective solutions are hard to come by. So it’s important to note that there’s another problem facing humanity that is as serious as climate change, though it doesn’t get the quite the same press as it once did.

The problem is: how are we to feed the world’s population in the future. An article by Julian Cribb in the Higher Education section of the Australian lays bare the facts, which I’ll summarise here.

• There are approximately 6.6 billion people alive today. By 2050 that number will probably be ~9.3 billion.
• Economic growth, particularly in China and India, will mean those ~9.3 billion will eat enough food for ~13 billion at today’s nutritional levels (primarily through increased protein intake).
• Accordingly, we will have to produce ~110% more food than we do today.

So is this really a problem? We’ve faced this challenge in the past, and largely defeated it, through the scientific and land management advances that became known as the Green Revolution. Predictions of disaster fortunately did not become reality. But as things stand, the second Green Revolution will be far more difficult to achieve than the first.


• There’s going to be less arable land available in the future due expansion of cities and towns and land degradation caused by unsustainable farming practices. At current rates, 5 to 10 million hectares of land is no longer able to be farmed per year.
• Increasingly, arable land previously used for food production will used for bio-fuel production to replace the world’s dwindling oil supplies.
• There’s going to be less water available for farming as more water is diverted to town and city supplies. Half the world’s fresh water will be used by cities by 2050. A third less fresh water will be available to agriculture.
• Large areas of coastal seas and lakes are unsuitable for aquaculture due to sediment, nutrient and pesticide contamination. Global fish stocks are collapsing.
• Drought in major food production regions is likely to be more frequent due to climate change. Extremes of weather, resulting in crop and livestock losses, will become more common.
• More nutrients are being lost due to erosion than are being produced. The USDA points to a net 55 million tonne nutrient loss per year.

So, to put it simply, we have to produce ~110 % more food by 2050 with less land, less water, less nutrients and more droughts and variable weather. We have to do it in a sustainable manor, and without a loss of biodiversity (the importance of which I’ve discussed here).

Governments must be taking this monumental problem pretty seriously, right?

Well, no, not really. There has been a world-wide reduction in agricultural research and development over the past 20 years. There are fewer research centres with fewer researchers and less money. Our best and brightest aren’t overly interested in the low pay, employment uncertainties and lack of project funding that comes with this kind of research.

So things look a little grim, but there is some hope. Scientific and management advances are being made. Agricultural biotechnology is being revolutionised by genetic modification and molecular breeding. We’ll almost certainly be able to produce more food with less land in the future. Is it too little, too late though? We’ll see.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Off waving the flag till Monday

Friday, January 19, 2007

Scientists, thou must not speak the truth

Damn….I spoke too soon. It appears our conservatives are, in fact, just as stoopid as the US variety. Maybe even stoopider. The Australian, our one and only national newspaper (Murdoch-owned, of course) has moved further and further to the rancid-Right in recent times. This ‘repositioning’ is most pronounced in the daily screeching rant editorial.

Today’s is something special:

The closest thing to practical action [against climate change and nuclear proliferation] was suggested by astronomy and physics professor Lawrence M. Krauss, who, in a BAS release, stated that "in these dangerous times scientists have a responsibility to speak truth to power".

Which is the last thing scientists should be doing. Rather than complaining to politicians or hectoring the public, if the scientific community sees threats to humanity it should lock itself up in a lab and come up with solutions.

The last thing scientists should do is speak the truth to decision makers? WTF! What, will their delicate sensibilities be offended by this horrible reality stuff? Might this reality not conform to their precious ideologies?

Away with your truths, scientists, as conservatives don’t want to know about them. They don’t want anyone else to know about them either, be they decision makers or the wider public. Lock yourselves away and be never heard from again. And remember, when you have solutions to these problems, don’t tell good ‘ol Power, as that would involve being truthful and, as you know, the last thing scientists should do is speak truth to Power. Makes perfect sense, right?

At least a leading conservative has come out and unambiguously demonstrated what most of us in the reality-based community suspected all along; that conservatives are really are f#%king idiots.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Stern Reveiw Crushed. Hmmmm......maybe not.

Denialists the world over are trumpeting the arrival of THE Stern critique, in which the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change gets its comeuppance.

Only that isn’t the case because, predictably, the critique is the same tired, debunked rubbish from the same shills: Bob Carter, Dick Lindzen, Ian Castles, Nigel Lawson, Ross McKitrick etc. Surely there must be some new crazies out there who can be found to put their name to this stuff.

Anyway, a little about the science.

The science section isn’t aimed at scientists, as anyone with a bit of knowledge of the field can easily pick the distortions, omissions and bizarre logic. It’s aimed squarely at the media, which hopefully by now will have learnt not to fall for it (though, unsurprisingly, the Climate Auditors have).

And which study gets a special mention in the critique, even earning a long quote in the text? Have a guess:
…the global warming observed during the latest 150 years is just a short episode in the geologic history. The current global warming is most likely a combined effect of increased solar and tectonic activities and cannot be attributed to the increased anthropogenic impact on the atmosphere. Humans may be responsible for less than 0.01°C (of approximately 0.56°C total average atmospheric heating during the last century).
Why, it’s none other than Khilyuk, L. F., and G. V. Chilingar (2006), perhaps the most mistake-ridden screed ever to pass peer-review. It has been fully debunked, and is an embarrassment to the authors, reviewers and the journal in which it was published, yet here it is forming a major part of the critique.

Ya gotta laugh at the gall of it.

Something else caught my eye (mainly because I saw Stephen Long’s presentation on this particular subject in Adelaide last year). It’s only a small section, but it encapsulates the approach taken in the entire critique.
Another source of the Review’s overestimates of future levels of hunger is its treatment of the prospective fertilisation of crops by additional carbon dioxide. The basis for this assumption, which flies in the face of numerous papers on the reality of carbon fertilisation, is a recent paper (Long et al., 2006), which suggests only that under field conditions, carbon fertilisation may be a third to less than half of what is suggested by experiments using growth chambers. The Review’s effective assumption of no carbon fertilisation, which is wholly unrealistic, allows it to make a headline projection that “250–550 million additional people may be at risk” of hunger, whereas, on its own figures, an assumption of strong fertilisation would have suggested declining numbers of hungry people, even for a temperature increase of up to 3.5 degrees C.
So, is there only one study that shows little CO2 benefit under field conditions? No.

FACE (free-air carbon enrichment) studies have been conducted on multiple crops at multiple sites by multiple research groups. This link shows the 50-odd papers published so far.

Do the FACE experiments show CO2 fertilization will be 1/3 to 1/2 of that suggested by growth chamber experiments? No.

This is roughly correct for C3 crops (though when combined with increased ozone, also due to fossil fuel burning, C3 crops decrease in yield). C4 crops actually show significantly less benefit again. Maize, which produces more grain than any other single crop on a world-wide basis, is a C4 plant.
Results from the open-field experiments, using Free-Air Concentration Enrichment (FACE) technology, “indicate a much smaller CO2 fertilization effect on yield than currently assumed for C3 crops, such as rice, wheat and soybeans, and possibly little or no stimulation for C4 crops that include maize and sorghum,”
The bit that makes me laugh the most is the statement that FACE experiments ONLY demonstrate increased CO2 loses its fertilisation effect under field conditions. Only, hey?

Imagine trying to sell this super-dooper CO2 fertilizer:

Nexus 6: “I’ve got this great new fertilizer that increases yields heaps.”

Farmer: “How much will it increase yields in my paddock.”

Nexus 6: “Not much, it may even decrease them. But it does wonders in the growth chamber.”

Farmer: “But I don’t grow my crops in the growth chamber.”

Nexus 6: “Oh.”

So why the difference between growth chamber and field? Because in growth chamber experiments, conditions are near-perfect and there are no additional limiting factors, allowing plants to fully utilise excess CO2. The results themselves are quite real; they just don’t represent the real world.

Liebig’s Law points to the reason why. Liebig's Law of the Minimum states that growth is controlled not by the total of resources available, but by the scarcest resource.

In the field, conditions are never perfect, with limitations in factors such as light, temperature, water, nitrogen, phosphorous etc., preventing the plant from taking full advantage of excess CO2. C4 plants use CO2 ‘more efficiently’ than C3 plants and, accordingly, show less response in the FACE experiments.

Everyone who has ever worked with growth chambers knows that experiments conducted in them are often unreliable indicators of how plants will perform in the field. Growth chamber experiments still have their value, but their limitations need to be understood.

So, for the critique to suggest that Stern should have ignored the field results and used the growth chamber results showing a strong fertilizer effect is preposterous. Stern is perfectly correct in this case, and the critique’s authors clearly full of it.

Who would have thought?

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Monday, January 15, 2007


Cartoon of the the year, and it's only 15 days old. Click on the link to learn why science is too controversial.

(H/T Pharyngula)

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Why (I think) biodiversity matters

This topic is a source of much debate over at Jen Marohasy's blog. The following is my reply, which I've decided to re-post in full here.

Louis asks what is biodiversity? In my view, it’s simply an extension of genetic diversity (and epigenetic diversity, but I won’t go into that as it complicates things a little). Within a species there is often, though not always, genetic variation (i.e. different forms or alleles of the same genes). Whether you take a cubic metre of soil, a paddock, the Great Barrier Reef, of the earth in its entirety, you get a series of genetic interactions mediated by direct or indirect interactions at the organism level. So even though genes encoded by the DNA of different organisms never come into direct contact, genes are changed by the evolutionary pressures resulting from interactions between organisms.

When it comes to pathogen-host interactions, the gene-for-gene hypothesis is fairly well accepted (it’s worth googling). In my view, there’s no reason to limit this hypothesis to pathogen-host interactions as it works equally well with all interactions, whether they be mutually beneficial, predator/prey etc.

So how does this explain why biodiversity is important?

Firstly, look at why genetic diversity is important to a species. When an organism’s environment is unchanging it’s actually not that important. But when an organism’s environment is variable, genetic diversity allows the species as a whole to cope with change, though individuals with the ‘wrong’ genes loose out. If this concept is extended to all species, biodiversity makes the Earth’s biological systems as a whole more robust.

If climate change, for example, knocks out one species of nitrifying bacteria, bacterial genetic diversity will hopefully allow another species to fill its place and keep the nitrogen cycle going happily on its way. Reduce the amount of diversity and you reduce the amount of raw material you have available to compensate for change, to act as a buffer as it were.

Talk of previous mass extinctions as normal is not helpful from a human viewpoint. A collapse of the nitrogen or carbon cycles, for example, would be catastrophic. The reason why this is unlikely to happen is that there is plenty of natural redundancy built in to the system. The redundancy comes from biodiversity, which is really genetic diversity, and genetic diversity is self-promoted by interactions with genetically diverse organisms (and diverse non-organic environments).

By artificially reducing both genetic and non-organic environmental diversity, we are making adaptation in a changing world more difficult. Instead of small, gradual changes to the environment, you get sudden lurches to extremes as the natural buffering capacity is no longer sufficient. This isn’t a good thing for human civilization or the large cuddly, furry animals we hold near-and-dear.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

More awards night controversies

One always likes to think that prestigious awards are given due to merit alone. Fairness and honesty, as opposed to money changing hands in smoke-filled backrooms. But, loyal readers, the worst has happened.

My nomination of God for the S Freds has had its legitimacy challenged. Rocketing to clear favoritism, God had one hand on the trophy. Unfortunately the rules are being changed to prevent God from even entering. She's not too happy and moderate smiting will most likely be carried out. I recommend staying indoors for the time being, but if you must go outdoors, metal-tipped umbrellas are not recommended.

It should also be noted that this is not an isolated case of an award cruely denied. The 2007 Darwin award winners have been published, with Jason Ackerman and Sara Rydman taking the top gong.
Two students who died after climbing into a huge helium-filled balloon for the 'buzz' of inhaling the gas paid the ultimate price for their stupidity.

But at least Jason Ackerman and Sara Rydman, both 21, have won posthumous recognition – topping the list at the annual Darwin Awards.

The pair were discovered with their feet sticking out of a deflated promotional balloon used to advertise flats for sale at LakeView, South Florida.

The two apparently pulled the balloon out of the sky and squeezed themselves inside, where they died of oxygen starvation.

They were, presumably, unaware that many regard helium is the best gas for euthanasia.
But surely the third place getter, an unnamed Brazilian, deserved the title.
In third place was a Brazilian who tried to dismantle a rocket-propelled grenade by driving back and forth over it with his car.

When the weapon failed to break up, he attacked it with a sledgehammer. The explosion killed him and destroyed six cars and his workplace.
Fraud, I tells ya, fraud!!!!!!!

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

The sound of silence

A couple of Tim Blair's posts on Iraq 2 years ago:

1. Earlier editions of Arthur Chrenkoff’s Good News from Iraq series contained 71 links to underreported “good news” stories. The latest edition contains 178 links. A similar trend is evident in Chrenkoff’s coverage of reporting from Afghanistan. As Arthur writes:

"Either there is more and more good news coming out of both Iraq or Afghanistan, or the reporters are getting increasingly optimistic about the situation there, or both. Whatever’s the answer, it’s good news."

Sure is.

2. Lefty Mark Bahnisch speaks for his fellows:

"I doubt that I want to say very much about the current situation in Iraq actually"

Yeah. It’s too good.
Tim Blair today, when a major new strategy was released by Bush involving the addition of 20 000 troops to attempt to quell the civil war:


Whatever happened to the good news, tim?

It's as though even the staunchest of warbloggers can no longer spin how great and glorious the democratisation if Iraq is.

But admit they were terribly wrong? Not a chance.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Our conservatives are smarter than yours

It was with great nationalistic pride I discovered that Australia’s most simplistic and misguided commentator on climate change, the Screechin’ Weasel, doesn’t hold a candle on his US counterpart, Melanie Morgan, when it comes to out-and-out wrongness.

Melanie succinctly articulates the Conservative take on the vast amount of science underpinning the theory of anthropogenic global warming.
Far-left political ideologies are being promulgated through ever-increasing mediums, and recently I noticed that a once-vaunted American television network, The Weather Channel, had succumbed to the cancerous spread of liberalism.

The global warming crowd, led by arrogant hustlers such as Heidi Cullen at The Weather Channel, has set up a no-lose situation for themselves.
Until I read Mel’s tome, I was unaware that Heidi Cullen of the Weather Channel was a leader in the field of climatology. And that the weather had cancer, or was liberal, or something along those lines.

There you go.
Climatology is by definition the study of long-term climate trends.
I thought it was the study of climate; past present and future. Again I appear to be mistaken.
...and it will indeed be many decades or longer before any definitive conclusions about even the existence of global warming – let alone its causes – can be determined to be true or false.
I detect something wrong there. Oh, that’s it.....we already have multiple pieces of evidence that constitute definitive proof of warming.

Could it be that Mel is actually making this stuff up? I’m on to her game.

Here’s my favourite, though. I’m assuming that if wing-nuts actually repeat the following statement enough times, Ronald Reagan will return from the dead and re-take the US presidency. Why else would you write something that a not-particularly bright child could spot the inconsistencies in? Not to try and convince someone you argument is actually correct, surely?
If forecasters can't reliably tell us what will happen in two to three months from now, why would anyone trust that they know what will happen with the weather in 50 or 100 years from now.
Well, Mel, you can hold me to this one, ‘cause I’m going into the prediction business, and to show how good I am, I’m going to predict regional climate with 100% accuracy, three months from now.

In the month of April, it will be colder on average in Australia than it is for the current month of January.

Pretty good, hey? Confidant, I am.

Sadly, not so good for Mel, whose article again demonstrates that the Right is very rarely is right about anything.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

My nomination for the S. Fred: God

Eli Rabett is calling for nominations for the prestigious S. Fred awards, and I’m happy to oblige. The Golden S. Fred is awarded to the person or persons whose achievements in spreading climate change disinformation are unmatched by the ordinary, every-day shill.

Viscount Monckton of Brenchley is the early bookie’s favourite, carrying short, almost unbackable, odds.

There are, however, many other deserving recipients, among them John Andrews of Climate Audit.
[Monckton’s] backgrounder in particular is a pretty good overview of the current state of the science, such as it is……
But really, one omniscient, omnipresent entity stands out: God.

Ghostwritten by the inspired mortals of the A Beka Book publishing house for home-educating impressionable children, Science Order and Reality represents God’s will.
Because most environmental scientists see the universe and even life itself as mere products of chance, it is easy for them to visualize potentially catastrophic changes occurring on Earth. As Christians we must remember that God provided certain ‘checks and balances’ in creation to prevent many global upsets that have been predicted by environmentalists.
One doesn’t like to preempt the IPCC 4th report, but it can be assumed God’s ‘checks and balances’ aren’t prominent.

But wait, there’s more!

Channeling the Creator, Science of the Physical Creation states:
All of the scientific evidence indicates that there is no danger of a global warming disaster.
Although God’s recent performances have been lackluster, she has proven form in attempting to overthrow the scientific orthodoxy. 2007 will be her year.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

More Monckton Silliness

It does become tiresome reading statements that the Medieval Warm Period was likely warmer than now. Journal-published author Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, in a letter demanding the resignation of two US Senators, is unequivocal.
There is no evidence that today’s temperatures are warmer than during the mediaeval warm period 1,000 years ago.
None. Nada. Zero.

How can one lie so brazenly, and expect to have one's reputation remain intact? I guess if you have no reputation to begin with……

There is actually plenty of evidence that it is warmer now, though honest skeptics could argue that such evidence is still insufficient, conflicting and not well understood. Fair enough, though probably incorrect.

So, to show Monckton is, ahhh, loose with the truth, here’s a ‘nice’ little piece of evidence I’ve recently become aware of:
In the summer of 2002, graduate student Derek Mueller made an unwelcome discovery: the biggest ice shelf in the Arctic was breaking apart.

When the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf originally formed, it blocked the mouth of Disraeli Fiord, cutting it off from the Arctic Ocean. In the process, the ice shelf trapped driftwood inside the epishelf lake and kept other pieces of driftwood from entering. Pieces of driftwood found along the shores of Disraeli Fiord have been there since the ice shelf formed, and by radiocarbon dating the wood, researchers have been able to estimate the minimum age of the ice shelf. “There simply are no radiocarbon dates more recent than 3,000 years before present,” said Jeffries. This ice shelf, in existence for at least three millennia, has now encountered conditions it can no longer survive.
So this ice shelf is at least 3000 years old, survived intact through the Medieval Warm Period beginning ~1000 years ago and ending ~750 years ago, and is now melting and breaking apart. Kinda strange if it was warmer then, don’t you think? This is, of course, just one further piece of evidence to add to numerous others, like tree ring data proxies.

Why, Monckton, why?

More on the Viscount’s comedic letter soon.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Not that dry?

Well, in Australia it isn't, according to Jen Marohasy.

In a way, she is correct.
"Preliminary data indicate that the average total rainfall throughout Australia for 2006 was about 490 mm, slightly more than the long-term average of 472 mm."

Only Austrlia's a big country, and the rain fell where it didn't matter too much. Jen should, perhaps, have posted this image:

The red areas denote below average, well below average and record-breaking below average rainfall for 2006.

The red areas contain, by my guess, roughly 95% of Australia's population.

The red areas on the following land-use map show the location of Australia's dry-land and irrigated agriculture (not including grazing)

Not that dry? Yeah, right. It has been a catastrophic year for most.

And the last word according to the Beareu of Meterology:
The dominant cause of the drought experienced throughout southeast Australia in 2006 was the development of an El Niño in the tropical Pacific Ocean. However, Australia has experienced marked rainfall trends over the last 50 years with declines over southern and eastern Australia and increases across the northwest. The pattern of rainfall during 2006 continued this trend.

The dry conditions in southern and eastern Australia in 2006 have continued the long-term rainfall deficiencies in many regions, some of which extend back more than five years. Aspects of this multi-year drought are highly unusual and unprecedented in many areas. Understanding the role that climate change has played in these anomalies is an area of active research.

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The Theology Student Delusion

When it comes to arguing whether God exists, or whether she is a figment of the human mind, first-year theological students have it all over Richard Dawkins.

Review after review after review after review states this.

Only they never mention why our first-year theological student is correct and Dawkins is wrong. Or, if the do, it’s a point so peripheral and probably misinterpreted, that the end result is the same.

This is why Dawkins riles so many. Because, in essence, he is absolutely correct in his utterly logical condemnations of God and religion. And because he married Romana from Dr. Who, the lucky bastard.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

It's 2007!! Where to now for the Nexus 6 blog?

Over the break I've been thinking a little on the direction of this blog.

I've decided to keep it pretty much as is; science and, in particular, climate change. I've dropped the music posts as they just didn't fit in, though at some stage down the track I may start a blog dedicated to tunes and artists I like. Same with the wine reviews.

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