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Australia update

Instead of updating and building this site I am in Australia, enjoying the sun and surf, while my family in the US is digging out of the snow.

Albany, Western Australia, primary school

Albany, Western Australia, primary school

But seriously I am in Oz because my mother needs medical attention, and just a few days ago broke her hip as well – not so good

On the energy front…  Energy is a hot (pardon the pun) topic down here:

  • At the national level the energy trading scheme (ETS) proposed by the Labor government (equivalent to the US Democrats) prior to the Copenhagen meeting is now a matter of fierce debate between the government and opposition.  The opposition (with the support of the major coal and gas producers) is making this a key issue.  The lukewarm (again pardon the pun) Copenhagen outcome has undermined the government’s proposal.  The basic argument is that an Australian ETS scheme can’t achieve anything to halt global warming, when the giants – China and the US – will take no meaningful action.  Fair enough – but somebody has to take a lead!  The Europeans are doing their bit, and Australia, barely hit by the global recession, can surely take a lead position as well.  The full discussion can be found on any number of Australian news sites, here is a summary of the government ETS proposal.
  • Australia has a home insulation scheme where the government pays the first $1200 of attic insulation, given some minor conditions.  This is a great scheme; my mum’s house in Albany, Western Australia has just been done, and, as the cost for the modest house was below the $1200 cut-off, will be completely free to her – no strings attached.  The R value – about R5 – is minimal by US standards, but is a start and adequate for the benign Oz climate.  Unfortunately when government money like this flows freely it attracts unskilled and/or unscrupulous operators.   There have been deaths for installers and electrified attics, where foil faced insulation came in contact with uninsulated, or badly insulated, wiring, plus fires where insulation was packed around recessed light fittings.  The number of potentially dangerous installations is in the thousands.  The government minister in charge, Peter Garrett, has come in for some heavy criticism.  Peter is probably better known to the US audience as the lead for the band Midnight Oil and as a conservation activist.
    • UPDATE: The insulation program was canceled with immediate effect, to be replaced by a wider, but to me less attractive program.  A startling admission of a good idea gone wrong.
    • COMMENT: The other lesson from this is that inspectors/auditors are a key to these programs.  Inspectors/auditors have to be independent of the installers/suppliers – which is NOT the case in NJ and probably many other US states.
    • And more – now there is rumor of sub-standard solar PV panels posing a hazard of electrical fires – again because not enough inspectors.
  • The “biggest ever” coal deal was announced a few days ago; Oz coal to China.  The realist of course checks these things a bit past the initial headlines and finds that the reality may not be as big as initially claimed.  (The realist has some first hand experience in dealing with Chinese negotiators…).  But still the story underlines the reliance of the Australian economy to flourish during a worldwide recession on the resources sector.
  • To play into the ETS “debate” Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley was rolled out on an Australian tour – to the usual acclaim of adherents to Thatcher/Reagan era economics and to the delight of all aristocracy fans (of which there are many in Oz).  His views on climate change (he is a denier of man made climate change) holds as much validity as his views on AIDS (isolate all infected people for the term of their natural life) or the European Union (withdraw from it).

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