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Ken Fabian

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Ken Fabian last won the day on January 13

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About Ken Fabian

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    Climate Science: Climate Politics: Energy technologies: Human Evolution

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  1. Australia's National Parks and Forestry and community Fire authorities use controlled burning and have never been prevented by "green regulation" from using it. Leading fire experts and former and current heads of fire authorities reject the claims that green regulation preventing burning off is to blame. Blaming environmentalists is a nasty political claim that has no actual substance. The forestry industry has long been antagonistic to those calling for forest protection and regulation that limits their access to State owned forest resources - hating greenies comes with the job. But I think conservative right politics has become especially antagonistic and inflaming those hatreds because those are the loudest voices on climate change, the message is cutting through and that issue is gaining popular support. Australian Greens have no policies that prevent hazard reduction burning - tending more towards promoting indigenous practices of controlled burning. They have never had enough representation to force policies on this. Livestock have been excluded from National Parks because their purpose is for native flora and fauna, not private grazing (a privilege widely abused when and where it was or is permitted); lots of Australians who are not "greenies" fully support that purpose. Reduced opportunities for burning off are more to blame for inadequate hazard reduction burning, as well as poor resourcing of National Park and Forestry management, that have to have teams and equipment on the ground to do it. Record and near record warm winters are making what was previously a relatively predictable and relatively safe activity - hazard reduction burning - unpredictable and dangerous. Fire authorities have always had all the authority needed, to conduct burning off but they also have authority to call a halt to burning off when conditions are making it too dangerous.They decide, not The Australian Greens. My own observation and speculation is that one of the crucial things that is changing with climate change warmer winters is lack of dew; my own observation was that previously, winter burning was often self limiting because cool conditions caused dew to form late in the night or early morning. Fires were lit in the previous afternoon or evening with a reasonable expectation they would go out. With warmer conditions there can be no such expectation; these activities are requiring ever greater vigilance, more people on the ground and more equipment. Around here - in the middle of recent fires - the last few winters would have allowed no more than 1 month of opportunity to fires to burn slowly with low likelihood of escaping containment. That is actually too short a time for large areas with high fuel loads; six weeks can be considered the minimum for a fire to burn out sufficiently to be declared "out" and slow burning trees and tree roots can still restart fires for longer periods than that. When I consider warming of 3C (at best I think) and possibly more than 5C (with the minimum levels of climate action that would be welcomed by Australia's current government) - it is properly terrifying.
  2. Welcome to the test tube! Personally I would rather we used physical data and understanding of physical processes to model what we can expect to happen, before they happen. Even imperfectly. It isn't up to you. You are entitled to your opinion - unless you are a scientist, operating within professional codes of conduct, which makes misrepresenting the work of your peer or yourself an ethical breach. Or you hold a position of trust and responsibility, which makes ignoring expert advice negligence. Real science skeptics say "I don't know". They do not say "everyone else doesn't know". Not even while the take the effort to check to be sure. If you don't know, how would you know the experts are wrong? You are doing faux skepticism, not genuine scientific skepticism. Presuming the mainstream body of knowledge on climate is false unless your are personally convinced is not scientific skepticism - it is just a sciency sounding way to reject anything you don't, can't or choose not to understand. It is because climate has changed dramatically in the past that makes adding CO2 emissions such a big deal; it would take a climate system that does not change for it to not matter. The very opposite conclusion to it meaning emissions won't matter. It is the vehicle that will not steer a straight line that is most likely to run off the road and crash. I will trust the world's leading science bodies ahead of a pseudonymous internet faux expert. The US National Academy of Sciences for example -
  3. Darwin did speculate about questions that could not be answered definitively but I'm not aware of him claiming certainty for the hypotheses he mentioned or even favoured. His speculations on any specific matter being wrong does not detract from the central thesis he is famous for being right. I do think that lesser thinkers that came after have made too much of those speculations - from both directions; some extending their defense of everything he said further than warranted and others making too much of the things he got wrong, as if that proved evolution through natural selection must be wrong. I have had a long running interest in how humans came to be furless - initially aroused because I found assumptions or claims that appeared quite wrong to me, assumptions that seemed to originate with speculation by Charles Darwin, that were taken as definitive when they were speculative. Tracking down specific mentions of "nakedness" (as the "human hairless" trait was referred to) did not lead me to conclude Darwin was wrong about everything else or diminish my respect for his contributions to science.
  4. To be fair, many would have been unaware of the full extent of the risk - some of which has grown as a climate change consequence. That does happen. Just as hazard reduction burning is a priority around the edges of vulnerable towns and cities. Like most options it still involves costs - acquistion as well as maintenance; cleared areas don't get that way or stay like that by themselves. Bare dirt is welcome when a fire is approaching but at other times it invites erosion and environmental degradation. Forests and parks have positive values in their own right and widescale elimination of vegetation has significant downsides, even leaving aside conserving natural biology and ecosystems. And I do not think we should leave those aside. Firebreaks - including wide ones around the interface of towns and forests are one element of mitigation but they are not ever going to be an absolute protection. It is hard to overstate how flammable the bush in Eastern Australia has been - not just lighting fires is prohibited, but so is outdoor welding, grinding, using tractor grass slashers. Metal bulldozer tracks have started fires. Even mechanical grain harvester cannot be used in extremes of heat and low humidity. The sight of a cigarette lighter becomes as alarming as someone waving an assault rifle around.
  5. It is more a case of people building homes in fire prone locations then expecting the environment to be made safe around them afterwards, ie prioritising human choice over the environment - mostly it is choice not need in nations like the USA or Australia. Active hazard reduction measures require funding, equipping and organising - and citizens can be complacent at the personal level and can vote against giving governments the authority or capabilities or funding needed at larger levels. Climate change is increasing the dangers and the challenges and the costs. I think this overestimates how effective fire breaks are. Under mild conditions and for cool weather hazard reduction fires they help contain fires with good levels of success. During dangerous conditions with major fires they are used where possible to fight fire with fire by 'backburning' back towards oncoming fires, but with only limited success - even when heavily resourced with firefighting personnel and equipment to prevent the fire jumping. Australia's fires are dropping burning embers that start new fires many kilometres ahead of fire fronts. There is no simple let alone low cost preventative measure. Eradication of vegetation is neither feasible nor desirable. Management involves government and statutory authorities that need to be resourced. On the ground individual landowners are going to have some of what they consider their "rights" overridden to reduce the broader risks.
  6. That is interesting. I had thought green wasn't used at all. I'm not convinced it means evolution of full spectrum for efficient photosynthesis is inevitable, that the chemistry that will support it can be presumed to be possible or that biological evolution can produce it.
  7. Depends on the chemistry that is capable of doing it. It is complex enough that having it happen at all looks remarkable. My understanding is that not all wavelengths of light are capable of supporting photosynthesis - or at least the kinds of chemistry around chlorophyll cannot. For all that life has been around for billions of years, we still do not get photosynthesis using green light. Life elsewhere may develop other photosynthetic chemistry but assuming it will do it better than what Earth biology can do is a stretch. Perhaps the kinds of photosynthesis we know - using blue and red light - are approaching as good as it gets.
  8. We are not so much defying as deferring natural selection. The exceptional survivability of humans under current conditions is allowing more genetic variability to become part of our gene pool. Much of that will not add to survival and will, under harsher circumstances, be selected out, yet we do not know what will survive best in the future and there could be surprises. For humans that survival is often less about individual fitness than group fitness; having allergies but belonging to a group that manages itself better may still be better than having no allergies but belonging to a group that fights amongst itself.
  9. Most solar panels are made to cope with some hail - ours have survived numerous storms with hail, occasionally large enough to damage vehicles. Very large hail can still damage them - but we need to put that in perspective; very large hail damages all manner of things and replacing a few solar panels is not so common or such a big deal as to require a rethink of how solar power is done. My understanding is that solar installers did a lot of removal of panels after serious hailstorms in Brisbane Australia in order that roofers could fix damaged roofs - only to put the same panels back. Very few were damaged. Interesting to note that heat pump hot water systems are now similar in cost to passive solar hot water systems, have very low power usage and are reliable. Homes with solar electricity would probably not need extra solar power if they are used; our home already sends several times more power back to the grid than we consume and hot water systems are well suited to scheduled operation during the middle of each day or whenever solar electricity supply is exceeding usage.
  10. When you have a successful way of life in a harsh and unforgiving landscape making fundamental changes to how things are done is neither necessary nor especially attractive. It is not a matter of resisting progress or lacking intelligence. Most people even now are not inventors or innovators; sit someone in front of chunks of flint, with a finished stone blade for an example and they probably still will not make the connection. Observing food plants growing where food scraps are discarded is more likely to prompt hunter gatherers to return to those places and/or engage in re-planting seeds/roots/shoots to make those plants more likely to grow and be productive the next time they visit than to prompt people to stay there permanently and become gardener/farmers. This occurred in Australia and in some places where more reliable harvests could be obtained more sedentary lifestyles arose but more often it was supplementing nomadic hunting and gathering than the other way around. Incorrect assumptions were made, mostly after those practices were disrupted - despite early observations of cultivation practices - about primitives who grew no crops, that flattered European settlers. https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/bushtelegraph/rethinking-indigenous-australias-agricultural-past/5452454
  11. I'm not sure pebbles on a beach would be the best example of nature separating things by size or density - often they do appear well mixed although I have observed differentiation. Dawkins may have seen something like this -
  12. There are some serious attempts to do so - Australian company 1414 Degrees is developing energy storage based on molten silicon. Time will tell if their projects will prove cost effective. These include a plant using bio-gas from wastewater treatment to heat the silicon, then use that for heat provision and electricity generation (see quote below) and have bought a failed solar thermal project, intending to bring it to completion and include their molten silicon storage.
  13. This sounds very much like the good governance issue I think is so central to our (in)ability to manage the climate problem - and not only the climate problem. Oversight and review of government finances are - or should be - stage centre, always. I am not inclined to tie government hands in a misplaced desire to limit the ability of poor governance to respond badly to complex problems and changing circumstances; I think poor governance can squander tax money no matter how many specific provisions are attempted and the solution is not tying revenues to specific spending but in improving governance. If we cannot improve governance then all those problems - Budget deficit, economic slowdown, worldwide collapse of economics - which climate change will exacerbate but are serious regardless, will be more likely and more damaging. Taxes on emissions are only directly linked to specific spending choices if the policies are set up that way - and I am not a big fan of prescribing where specific revenues go, preferring that ongoing oversight of the whole rather than excessively focusing on particular elements; having revenues tied to specific purposes tends to limit the ability to review and redirect them according to current or projected needs. Directing taxpayer money to specific projects or to R&D or to subsidies - or to tax relief - can be part of such schemes or not but I favour pricing of emissions that is sufficient to be a real incentive in and of itself, irrespective of where the taxes go. Also, Emissions taxes should be designed to be avoidable - the incentive to choose investments and activities that don't have to pay them is their purpose; if they get treated as sources of essential, ongoing revenue then they are set up wrong. There can be built-in tying of funds to make those low emissions options cheaper and easier and more desirable - ie subsidies - and that may be a compromise to allow lower emissions taxes to be applied but if that is not working and companies simply raise price revenues on fossil fuel energy rather than change then the tax settings as well as spending (subsidy) options are wrong.
  14. I disagree - the presence of taxes on carbon changes the investment decisions corporations make, thus the emissions of the products and services they offer and that customers buy. It should do so in ways that apply across whole economies. In any case we are talking about real and significant costs from emissions - even if they are difficult to quantify; failure to apply any accountability for emissions ultimately adds costs to ordinary people, just indirectly.
  15. If corporations can always find their way around fines, fees, taxes and regulations then we have a profoundly serious problem with governance that needs addressing - and not only for climate policy reasons. Even the presumption that governments are incapable of dealing with the avoidance of accountability by corporations is an issue that needs addressing - so it does not persist as the excuse for politicians to fail to act. It raises the issues around the role of journalism and news media as actively partisan players - a role that the essential amorality of a business model based around getting paid to influence the choices people make, both their purchasing choices and their votes, through advertising, PR and editorial opinion makes into a small step to take. Isn't the USA's constitutional protections for news outlets the enshrined right of media owners to use newspapers as a means to do just that, ie to engage in partisan politics? Whilst there are legal remedies for people being slandered (if you can afford it) the right for the voting public to know the truth looks more like a marketing slogan than a journalistic ethic. I think the capacity for good governance to address the climate issue is very much dependent on where the balance between Integrity vs Corruption sits; if corporations or other powerful vested interests can consistently game the system to prevent governments from acting effectively in the face of such a grave threat to continuing prosperity then it is easy to feel pessimistic. However, I think the lengths the opponents of strong policy go to to reinforce the public's sense of helplessness and pointlessness suggests that when push comes to shove they know governments do have sufficient power to act. Climate change is not the only issue where good governance matters, but I think it does make the significance of where governance sits on the Integrity vs Corruption spectrum stark and clear. If we cannot deal with climate change effectively we are in deep trouble We have codes of conduct bound by the rule of law because humans will choose their own interests first and will try to find ways around having to be responsible and accountable (and obey laws, pay fines, fees and taxes); governance that seeks to enable "free choice" about matters of responsibility and ethics is not good governance as I see it.
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