a DUTY of CARE – to our children

On May 27, 2021 the Australian Federal Court found something it never has before: a Duty of Care by the Minister for the Environment to Australia’s young people not to cause them physical harm in the form of personal injury from climate change.  Conservationists lauded it as “a landmark judgement on climate change, marking an important moment in our history”.  

Laura Kirwin, Izzy Raj-Seppings, Ava Princi and Liv Heaton pose for a photo outside The Federal Court of Australia in Sydney, Thursday, May 27, 2021

The language used in the judgement is graphic:

“It is difficult to characterise in a single phrase the devastation that the plausible evidence presented in this proceeding forecasts for the children. 

As Australian adults know their country, Australia will be lost and the world as we know it gone as well.

The physical environment will be harsher, far more extreme and devastatingly brutal when angry. As for the human experience – quality of life, opportunities to partake in nature’s treasures, the capacity to grow and prosper – all will be greatly diminished.

Lives will be cut short. Trauma will be far more common and good health harder to hold and maintain.

None of this will be the fault of nature itself. It will largely be inflicted by the inaction of this generation of adults, in what might fairly be described as the greatest inter-generational injustice ever inflicted by one generation of humans upon the next.

To say that the children are vulnerable is to understate their predicament.”


PLEASE NOTE: I am not a lawyer!  I advise anyone interested to read the full text  and some extracts at end of this post.

The Case

The class action case was brought on behalf of all Australian children and teenagers, against the Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley (and Vickery Coal Pty Ltd as a second respondent) .

Their aim was to prevent Ley from possibly approving a coal mine project, near Gunnedah in New South Wales. They argued that approving this project would endanger their future because of climate hazards, including causing them injury, ill health, death or economic losses.

The case – “Sharma by her litigation representative Sister Marie Brigid Arthur v Minister for the Environment [2021]” was heard by Judge Bromberg of the Victorian Registry of the Federal Court of Australia.

Judge Bromberg’s summary of the case is at the end of this post.

The Result

The judgement is narrow in one sense; it orders the parties to come back to court to answer questions and make suggestions. It denies the children’s request to stop development of the mine and leaves that decision to the Minister.

But the breakthrough (in my non-legal opinion) is in the following points:

The judge has formally declared that the Minister (i.e. the Government) has a Duty of Care to the children of Australia.  “By reference to contemporary social conditions and community standards, a reasonable Minister for the Environment ought to have the Children in contemplation when facilitating the emission of 100 Mt of CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere.  It follows that the applicants have established that the Minister has a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing personal injury to the Children when deciding … to approve or not approve the … Project”.

The scientific basis for the findings is part of the judgement and now becomes legal precedent.  It is also a good primer on climate change for anyone still not convinced of the science.  (The diagram below is one of many in the judgement)

The Minister for the Environment (i.e. the Australian Government) did not challenge any of these scientific facts:  “Looking to the future, the Minister accepts that under all future emission scenarios, it is very likely that: (a) average temperatures will continue to increase and Australia will experience more heat extremes and fewer frosty days; (b) extreme rainfall events will become more intense; (c) southern and eastern Australia will experience more extreme fire-related weather; (d) the time in drought will increase over southern Australia; (e) sea levels will continue to rise throughout the 21st century, with increased frequency of storm surge events; and (f) oceans around Australia will warm and become more acidic. The Minister also accepts that the projected effects of climate change vary depending upon the extent of global emissions of greenhouse gases in coming years.

By logical extension the Duty of Care extends to ALL CHILDREN: “although the applicants did not press for relief in relation to children residing outside of Australia, those children remain represented persons in the proceeding”. 

And finally; the legal precedents for this judgement have been researched and recorded. I have not read this section of the judgement and do not intend to 🙂

The Future – Options – (Please note again; I am no lawyer!)

The Minister may approve the mine extension anyway. Certainly the company sounds optimistic. The minister may also be influenced in this decision by more immediate political reasons: “One of the Coalition’s most senior women, the federal environment minister Sussan Ley, is expected to face a challenge in her rural New South Wales seat of Farrer amid allegations of “toxic” branch-stacking by far-right conservatives in the seat” (from this article)

A possible appeal to the High Court of Australia

Some other agreement after the responses requested by Judge Bromberg.

The meme “Duty of Care” will remain !


The 1bio story is:  “We have a “Duty of Care” to the children of today”

I simply took the words of the judgement and extended it in two ways; first by including all children (which is already there) and second by including all adults as the holders of that duty.  Sure it is the Minister and her equivalent, elected or appointed, officials who have the power to make these decisions.  But it is us who have the power, through voting and other civil action, to influence the elections and appointments.

Time is short

The second half of this century, going into 2100, seems a long way off.  That’s how it feels.  Plenty of time to look at alternatives, develop new technologies, and do some more studies.

But it’s less than 80 years away!  Most of us expect to live close to, or beyond, our 80’s. In 2100 the children of today will be old and will have children and grandchildren.  All of them will have to cope with the decisions we make today. Today they are essentially powerless.  We owe them this Duty of Care and use our power to make the right decisions for them.  We adults are expected to care for our children and prepare them for life in general.  So clearly we also need to leave them a viable biosphere.

Looking backwards we are shaped by the decisions made 80 years ago.  1940 is not so long ago for those of us who are nearing, or in, our 80’s.  All of us are shaped by the decisions of those days; from Katyn, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Dunkirk to Daisy Duck, Bugs Bunny and Captain America.

The adults of 2100 will be shaped by our decisions now, but in an additional dimension because the effects will not be confined to the universe of human ideas like nations, politics and economics, but will result in changes to “Nature” – to the biosphere.

The “trail of proof” for the story is the detail of the judgement and the extensive references to basic research and analysis.  It is telling that this scientific basis was not challenged by the government of Australia!


Other legal stories that came up as I was writing this post:

A duty of care similar to the Australian case  was found in the Netherlands in 2015, as a global first. In 2019, the Supreme Court upheld that duty – the Dutch government owed its citizens a duty to reduce emissions in order to protect human rights.  The Australian case follows that lead.

A report indicates that a proposed post-Brexit trade agreement between Australia and the UK includes an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) scheme, which allows firms to sue governments when they believe policies have left them out of pocket. ISDS is a system of private courts convened in private and arbitrated by judges, allowing firms to bypass domestic civil courts. The original intent was to protect international companies from seizure of their assets in the aftermath of a coup or by a rogue state, for example a mine being nationalized without reasonable compensation. Recent ISDS cases include a Swedish energy firm suing Germany for policies that cut water pollution; a US drugs firm suing Canada for trying to reduce medicine prices; a French multinational suing Egypt for increasing its national minimum wage and the Dutch government is being sued in these courts for phasing out coal power

A California politician is taking steps to declare a fish legally extinct. The Delta smelt originates in the San Francisco Estuary and grows to about 4 inches.  They are considered threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act.  The fish is at the center of a battle between farmers and environmentalists. Smelt species protections mean a larger water flow through rivers and eventually to the Pacific, and less for farmers. The fish has teetered on the edge of extinction for years. The politician argues there is no reason to wait any longer to call the fish extinct, not when water is so important in the central San Joaquin Valley.  “We can’t let a technicality or government regulation get in the way of what our whole economy relies on,” he said. “Our economy relies on water.”

Declaring a species legally extinct so that it needs no further protection is truly dystopian in scope. I leave it to you to explore how far that thought can be taken…


Note 1 – Quotes from the Judgement

[In 2016]”…, Whitehaven applied to the Minister to expand and extend the Approved Project in accordance with s 68 of the EPBC [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation] Act. Vickery replaced Whitehaven as the proponent of the Extension Project on 17 July 2018. If approved, the Extension Project would, amongst other things, increase total coal extraction from the mine site from 135 to 168 million tonnes (Mt).  When combusted, the additional coal extracted from the Extension Project will produce about 100 Mt of CO2.

The Minister has before her the decision to approve or refuse the Extension Project under s 130(1) and s 133 of the EPBC Act. This proceeding concerns that decision.

In this proceeding the applicants claim that the Minister owes each of the Children a duty to exercise her power under s 130 and s 133 of the EPBC Act with reasonable care so as not to cause them harm. That duty of care is said to arise by reason of the existence of a legal relationship between the Minister and the Children recognised by the law of negligence.

The applicants apprehend that the Minister will fail to discharge the duty by exercising her discretion in favour of the approval of the Extension Project. The applicants seek declaratory and injunctive relief designed to preclude the Minister from failing to discharge the duty of care they claim she has. 

The particular harm relevant to the alleged duty of care is mental or physical injury, including ill-health or death, as well as economic and property loss. The applicants assert that the Children are likely to suffer those injuries in the future as a consequence of their likely exposure to climatic hazards induced by increasing global surface temperatures driven by the further emission of CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere. The feared climatic hazards include more, longer and more intense bushfires, storm surges, coastal flooding, inland flooding, cyclones and other extreme weather events

The applicants allege that such harm will occur in the future and mainly towards the end of this century when global average surface temperatures are forecast to be significantly higher than they are currently. Broadly speaking, it is at that time that, unlike today’s adults, today’s children will be alive and will be the class of persons most susceptible to the harms in question. Indeed, the applicants say that today’s children will live on Earth during a period in which, if CO2 concentration continues to increase, some harm is very probable, serious harm is likely and cataclysmal harm is possible. This seems to be the basis for the proceeding being directed to providing relief to children, as distinct from all persons. On this basis, the applicants say that the Children are vulnerable to a known, foreseeable risk of serious harm, which the Minister can control, but they cannot. In addition, the applicants say that by her position in the Commonwealth Executive, the Minister has special responsibilities to Australian children.The applicants say that if the Minister approves the Extension Project, carbon presently stored safely underground at the mine site of the Extension Project will be extracted, combusted and emitted as CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere and will materially contribute to CO2 concentration.

The Minister does not dispute that climate change presents serious threats and challenges to the environment, the Australian community and the world at large. However, the Minister denies the existence of a duty of care as alleged.

The risk of harm to the Children is not remote, it is reasonably foreseeable and it is therefore a real risk for reasons already explained. The Minister has direct control over the foreseeable risk because it is her exercise of power upon which the creation of that risk depends. To my mind, there is therefore a direct relation between the exercise of the Minister’s power and the risk of harm to the Children resulting from the exercise of that power. The entirety of the risk of harm flowing from that exercise of power is therefore in the Minister’s control.” 

Note 2 – Minister for the Environment

Given the different political systems in the USA and Australia it is difficult to draw an equivalence between the Australian “Minister for the Environment” and the corresponding position in the USA.  The closest may be the United States Secretary of the Interior. However Sussan Ley, the current Minister for the Environment, is also the elected lower house member of parliament for the rural New South Wales seat of Farrer. As such she is subject to the same election pressures as any other member of the Australian parliament.

Note 3 – Sister Arthur

As a result of the age of the applicants, the proceedings were brought by their representative, 86 year-old Sister Marie Brigid Arthur, who is a Sister of the Brigidine Order of Victoria.  She has been an activist in a number of cases including refugees, the treatment of juvenile offenders, solitary confinement and other matters.

Note 4 – Justice Bromberg

Justice Bromberg is part of the Full Federal Court (similar to a US Federal Court of Appeal).  The High Court of Australia, equivalent to the US Supreme Court, is the highest and final court in the land.

Judges on the Australian High Court, and the Federal Courts, have a mandatory retirement age of 70 (vs. lifetime appointments in the US).  There are formal qualifications for appointment and the process is similar to that in the US; i.e. nomination and, effectively, appointment by the government in power. However the Australian process has wider input and is a far less public process than in the US.

Note 5 – the case in Justice Bromberg’s words

“In a nutshell, the applicants’ case is that the scientific evidence demonstrates the plausible possibility that the effects of climate change will bring about a future world in which the Earth’s average surface temperature (currently at about 1.1°C above pre-industrial temperature levels) will reach about 4°C above pre-industrial temperature levels by about 2100. Supported by unchallenged expert evidence, the applicants contended that a 4°C future world may come about in one of two ways: first, where the greenhouse effect upon the Earth’s increasing temperature is driven by an approximately linear relationship between increased human emissions of CO2 and increased temperatures, and second,  in circumstances where continuing human emissions of CO2 will result in ‘Earth System’ changes, which diminish the Earth’s current ability to reflect heat, absorb CO2, and retain CO2 currently held in carbon sinks, triggering ‘tipping cascades’ which propel the Earth into a 4°C trajectory.”


Net Zero by 2050 – the mob rule of climate activists

“The IEA has surrendered its integrity to the mob rule of climate activists” was one response to a report released by the International Energy Agency on the 18th of May 2021.

Ah, yes, the mob, painted in druidish symbols, waving “∃!Ⓑ” banners, storming the concrete ramparts of 9 rue de la Fédération and smashing urns of priceless vintage crude until the IEA surrendered its integrity…

But seriously; given the IEA’s historically close association with the oil industry and the stark nature of the report – “Net Zero by 2050 – A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector” – some strong reactions had to be expected.

Taken together, this Roadmap, the Dasgupta Review and the “Ghastly Future” paper  paint an excruciating picture of the problems we have created and also offer a path to solve them.  However success will call for major and urgent behavior change from the personal to the international level.  We have done it before – but only at times of war.  This fight for the biosphere is a step beyond.

In 224 pages, the Roadmap lays out a path for getting to Net Zero by 2050.  To me it appears like a Rorschach test; we all “see” something different.  Climate champions welcome the sense of urgency and call to action, while questioning a number of specifics.  Fossil fuel people react in more or less polite anger. The nuclear guys like what they see but want more. (See Note at end)


Let the Roadmap speak for itself:

“…the pledges by governments to date – even if fully achieved – fall well short of what is required to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050 and give the world an even chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C

“…clean  energy  transitions  must  be  fair  and inclusive, leaving  nobody behind.  We  have  to  ensure  that  developing  economies  receive  the financing  and  technological  know‐how  they  need  to  continue  building  their  energy  systems to  meet  the  needs  of  their  expanding  populations  and  economies  in  a  sustainable  way.  It  is a  moral  imperative  to  bring  electricity  to  the  hundreds  of  millions  of  people  who  currently are deprived of  access to it, the  majority of them in Africa”.   

The  transition  to  net  zero  is  for  and  about  people.  It  is  paramount  to  remain  aware  that  not every  worker  in  the  fossil  fuel  industry  can  ease  into  a  clean  energy  job … Citizens must  be  active  participants  in  the  entire  process,  making  them  feel  part  of  the  transition  and not  simply  subject  to  it.”

“Priority Action” items from the Roadmap are:

  • Make the  2020s the decade of massive  clean  energy expansion – All  the  technologies  needed  to  achieve  the  necessary  deep  cuts  in  global  emissions  by 2030  already  exist,  and  the  policies  that  can  drive  their  deployment  are  already  proven.
  • Prepare for the next phase of the transition by boosting innovation – Clean energy innovation must accelerate rapidly, with governments putting R&D, demonstration and deployment at the core of energy and climate policy.
  • Clean energy  jobs will grow strongly  but must be  spread widely – Energy  transitions  have  to  take  account  of  the  social  and  economic  impacts  on individuals and  communities,  and treat people  as active participants.
  • Set near-term milestones to get  on track for long-term targets – Governments  need  to  provide  credible  step‐by‐step  plans  to  reach  their  net  zero  goals, building confidence among investors, industry, citizens and  other countries.
  • Drive a  historic surge in  clean energy investment – Policies  need  to  be  designed  to  send  market  signals  that  unlock  new  business  models and mobilize private spending,  especially in emerging economies
  • Address emerging energy security risks now – Ensuring  uninterrupted  and  reliable  supplies  of  energy  and  critical  energy‐related commodities at  affordable prices will only rise in importance  on the way to  net zero.
  • Take international co-operation to new heights – This  is  not  simply  a  matter  of  all  governments  seeking  to  bring  their  national  emissions to net zero – it  means tackling  global challenges through co‐ordinated actions.

NUMBERS from the Roadmap:

[EJ = exajoule – 1018 joules, CAAGR = Compound Average Annual Growth Rate, CCUS = Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage]

  • Total energy supply – going down! IEA expects everybody in the world to have access to electricity, while saving enough through “behavioural” changes to have a net reduction.  [What a great goal. Is it realistic?]
  • Renewables – a big increase in all renewables (except Hydro).
    • Solar – “For solar power, it is equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day. To reach net zero emissions by 2050, annual clean energy investment worldwide will need to more than triple by 2030 to around $4 trillion”.  [Wow…]
    • Bioenergy – this increase has drawn criticism from a number of sources.  [Can it be done and also ensure biodiversity, long term soil health, community integrity? See my previous post on biomass.]
  • Traditional biomass: “Some  40%  of  the  solid  biomass  was  used  in  traditional  cooking  methods  which is unsustainable, inefficient and polluting, and  was linked to  2.5 million  premature deaths in 2020.  The  use  of  solid  biomass  in  this  manner  falls  to  zero  by  2030 …”. [A laudable goal and in line with the goal of providing access to electricity to all.  Can it be done in less than 9 years?  In the face of tradition and poverty?]
  • Nuclear – The IEA has been a supporter of nuclear energy through its history and does not change in this report.  The word “nuclear” appears some 90 times in the report (to be fair so do the other fuels).  However the word “waste” does not appear anywhere near “nuclear”.  The report does state: “The  large  fleet  of  ageing  nuclear  reactors  in  advanced  economies  means  their decommissioning  increases,  despite  many  reactor  lifetime  extensions”.  [What happens to the waste from these reactors? The nuclear waste issue is not solved.  Of all the countries using nuclear power only Finland is in the actual construction phase of a High Level/Long Term Waste storage facility.  Many countries, including the USA, China, France and Sweden, have identified and planned sites. But all have run into roadblocks preventing construction – from my previous post on nuclear power]
  • Fossil Fuels – As expected these take the greatest hit in the roadmap.  Adding the “unabated” (i.e. with direct GHG emissions) and the “with CCUS” numbers the drop from 2020 to 2050, in exo-joules, is: Gas; 137 to 60, Oil; 173 to 42 and Coal; 154 to 17 – with the attendant loss of revenues and employment. [The problem here is that although CCUS is known technology, “rapid scaling up of CCUS are very uncertain for economic, political and technical reasons”]

KEY UNCERTAINTIES called out in the Roadmap are: “…behavioural  change,  bioenergy  and  CCUS  for  fossil  fuels.  These three  areas  were  selected  because  the  assumptions  made  about  them  involve  a  high  degree of  uncertainty  and  because  of  their  critical  contributions  to  achieve  net‐zero  emissions  by 2050″.

  • Behavior – This is mostly in flying, driving and heating/cooling behaviors
  • Bioenergy  – “….there  are  constraints  on  expanding  the  supply  of  bioenergy:  with  finite potential  for  bioenergy  production  from  waste  streams,  there  are  possible  trade‐offs between  expanding  bioenergy  production,  achieving  sustainable  development  goals  and avoiding conflicts with other land uses, notably food production”. [As stated before this does not address concerns re biodiversity, species loss, quite apart from the aesthetics of “wild places”]
  • CCUS – “The use of CCUS with fossil fuels provides almost 70% of the total growth in CCUS to 2030 in the NZE. Yet the prospects for the rapid scaling up of CCUS are very uncertain for economic, political and technical reasons”

Others, in my opinion equally uncertain are:

  • Innovation – “Innovation is key to developing new clean energy technologies and advancing existing ones. The importance of innovation increases as we get closer to 2050 because existing technologies will not be able to get us all the way along the path to net‐zero emissions. Almost 50% of the emissions reductions needed in 2050 in the NZE depend on technologies that are at the prototype or demonstration stage, i.e. are not yet available on the market
  • International Cooperation – “Take international co-operation to new heights. This  is  not  simply  a  matter  of  all  governments  seeking  to  bring  their  national  emissions to net zero – it  means tackling  global challenges through co‐ordinated actions”. 

BOTTOM LINE: Massive, urgent, international and personal change is needed to meet global warming goals.  Can it be done?  Yes.  Will it be done?  The probability is: No.  But let’s surprise ourselves.


Note 1 – The IEA NZE Roadmap

Note 2 – IEA history note

Note 2 – IEA history note

As an example of previous IEA positions here is a June 2014 report: World needs $48 trillion in investment to meet its energy needs to 2035 – News

  • “Of the investment in energy supply, $23 trillion is in fossil fuel extraction, transport and oil refining”   (Fatih Birol was the IEA Chief Economist at the time)
  • Comparing the 2014 statement ($23 trillion) to now “no new oil and natural gas fields are required beyond those that have already been approved for development” shows why the new Roadmap is such a departure for the IEA and why it has prompted such strong responses.

Note 3 – Dasgupta Review and the “Ghastly Future” paper

The “Dasgupta Review” may be found at Final Report – The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review and is also discussed in my previous post; It’s the biosphere, stupid! – 1biosphere.net

The “Ghastly Future” paper refers to Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future – by Bradshaw Corey J. A., Ehrlich Paul R., Beattie Andrew, Ceballos Gerardo, Crist Eileen, Diamond Joan, Dirzo Rodolfo, Ehrlich Anne H., Harte John, Harte Mary Ellen, Pyke Graham, Raven Peter H., Ripple William J., Saltré Frédérik, Turnbull Christine, Wackernagel Mathis, Blumstein Daniel T.  in Frontiers in Conservation Science.

The abstract from this paper, [with my bulleting and highlighting] is:

  • “We report three major and confronting environmental issues that have received little attention and require urgent action. 
  • First, we review the evidence that future environmental conditions will be far more dangerous than currently believed. The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts. 
  • Second, we ask what political or economic system, or leadership, is prepared to handle the predicted disasters, or even capable of such action
  • Third, this dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business, and the public. 
  • We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future. The added stresses to human health, wealth, and well-being will perversely diminish our political capacity to mitigate the erosion of ecosystem services on which society depends. The science underlying these issues is strong, but awareness is weak. Without fully appreciating and broadcasting the scale of the problems and the enormity of the solutions required, society will fail to achieve even modest sustainability goals.”

Note 4 – War

For whatever reason we are capable of banding together, even across national boundaries, to kill each other and cause as much destruction as we can during times of war.  Individual behavior can change to an extraordinary extent and somehow the money always seems available.  Sure, there are the profiteers and others who sit at the sidelines benefiting from the carnage all round, but they will always be with us.

This fight for the biosphere will need similar levels of behavior change and similar international cooperation.

But we need a leap of the imagination.  We have no problem demonizing enemies, providing they are human, in thrall to some perverse ideology or cowed by some monstrous dictator and his apparatus.  What if the demon enemy really is us and the perverse ideology is that of consumption, growth, waste and personal indulgence?

In my previous post I discuss the 6 world regions (China, USA, EU (including the UK!), India, Russia and Japan) that are most important to any healing of the biosphere.  Given the internal political status of those regions and the animosity between some of them them I wonder how they can come together with one goal.  There are some tentative moves.  Will they be enough?

Note 5 – Responses to the IEA NZE Roadmap

From the nuclear guysWorld Nuclear Association response to the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 report (18 May 2021)

“The IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 report, released today, concludes that nuclear energy will make a “significant contribution” to their Net Zero Emissions scenario, and will provide an “essential foundation” in the transition to a net-zero energy system.

[The IEA’s Net Zero Emissions scenario] “puts too much faith in technologies that are uncertain, untested, or unreliable and fails to reflect both the size and scope of the contribution nuclear technologies could make”. WNA notes that the NZE scenario’s projection for nuclear growth sees the share of nuclear energy in the global electricity mix falling from 10.5% to 8%. “Given that more than 60% of the world’s electricity is currently generated by fossil fuels, if we are to eliminate them in less than 30 years, the IEA’s assessment of the role of nuclear is highly impractical.”

“WNA notes that, in addition to electricity, nuclear energy can generate zero-carbon heat. “This is an opportunity that the IEA’s report barely touches on. Existing reactors are already being used to provide steam for district heating systems and to produce fresh water. New reactor designs under development and deployment could provide heat and feedstocks for industry (chemicals, steel, concrete, cement), fuels for heavy transport (shipping, aviation) or generate hydrogen directly.”

From the oil and gas guys (American Petroleum Institute) – API | API Statement on IEA Report on Pathway to Net-Zero by 2050

“IEA itself regularly acknowledges that half the technology to reach net zero has not yet been invented. Any pathway to net zero must include continued innovation and use of natural gas and oil, which remains crucial to displacing coal [way to go guys; kick coal while it’s down] in developing nations and enabling renewable energy. Our industry is committed to shaping a cleaner future by advancing technologies and policymaking to reduce emissions while providing the affordable, reliable energy modern life depends on.”

From Forbes –  New IEA Net Zero Roadmap Undermines America’s Energy Security

From the BBCClimate change: Ban new gas boilers from 2025 to reach net-zero

[I find it interesting that this analysis uses the issue of gas boilers as the headline.  But it is a very good example.  Today an entire industry segment – from gas suppliers, pipeline people, boiler manufacturers to the local plumber are selling and servicing high efficiency gas boilers as a cost effective heating solution.  To bring that industry to a full stop in 4 years is a big ask.  Of course, with 20/20 hindsight, if we had pushed (even more efficient) heat pumps 15 years ago life would be easier now. As part of the article the BBC simplifies items from the report, which I repeat here for background]

  • Fossil fuel use falls drastically in the net‐zero emissions scenario by 2050, and no new oil and natural gas fields are required beyond those that have already been approved for development. No new coal mines or mine extensions are required.
  • Emissions from electricity generation fall to net‐zero in advanced economies by 2035 and globally by 2040. Renewables drive the transformation, up from 29% of generation in 2020 to nearly 90% in 2050.
  • The number of public charging points for electric cars rises from around one million today to 40 million by 2030, requiring an annual investment of $90bn by the end of the decade.
  • By 2035, nearly all cars sold globally are electric, and by 2050 nearly all heavy trucks sold are fuel cell or electric.
  • Per capita income from oil and gas in countries that rely on fossil fuel production falls by around 75% from $1,800 to $450 by the 2030s
  • “The scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal – our best chance of tackling climate change and limiting global warming to 1.5C – make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director.  “The IEA’s pathway to this brighter future brings a historic surge in clean energy investment that creates millions of new jobs and lifts global economic growth. Moving the world on to that pathway requires strong and credible policy actions from governments, underpinned by much greater international cooperation.”

Squared Paper

Schools, at every level, should change from ruled to square paper.

It will help to broaden thinking, from 1 dimension to 2. It will help in basic math and practically everything else. Scientific facts will become easier to understand, poetry easier to write, drawings easier to draw and doodles will reveal meaning.

In short; squared paper is a first step to conquering the environmental crisis.

And you think I’m joking?

Earth Day Short Stories

Today, the 22nd of April, is EARTH DAY and articles of interest are everywhere.  Here are some headlines and short comments.

On TV, Spend Earth Day With David, Greta … or Cher?

“This year’s specials include a Greta Thunberg documentary, a David Attenborough extravaganza, James Cameron on whales and Cher rescuing an elephant.”

“In (a discussion between Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough from) “A Year to Change the World, ”Thunberg is unfailingly polite, but you can see what she’s thinking. When she asks if he has ideas for how to “activate” older people into environmental activism, he has nothing to offer, other than to praise her.” (New York Times)

Yes, that’s the issue; how to “activate” people?  Older or not.  Just maybe 1bio stories can do their little bit to help in that?


The Climate Crisis Is Poised to Make Huge Swaths of America Totally Uninsurable

(The Daily Beast)

No comment needed.  Fire in the (USA) west and water in the east…


United Nations releases 2nd World Ocean Assessment

The report lists impacts on what UN secretary general António Guterres said was the planet’s “life support system”. Sea levels are rising, coasts are eroding, waters are heating and acidifying and the number of deoxygenated “dead zones” is rising. Marine litter is present in all marine habitats and overfishing was costing societies billions. About 90% of mangrove, seagrass and marsh plant species were threatened with extinction.

(The report authored by UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, excerpts above from The Guardian)

The report is downloadable in 2 volumes – totalling 1090 pages! It clearly is a comprehensive document and of value to professionals in the field.  But for most of us the length and complexity make it essentially inaccessible.  That is why we need stories woven from the findings of these reports, and solidly linked back to them.


Changes to giant ocean eddies could have ‘devastating effects’ globally

“Researchers fear increasing energy in these eddies could affect ability of Southern Ocean to absorb C02” ‘“The world’s oceans soak up most of the carbon dioxide that humans dump into the atmosphere. The Southern Ocean in particular absorbs about 40% of the entire ocean uptake and much of that uptake is achieved by ocean eddies”  Any change in the ocean eddies in the Southern Ocean can … “potentially impact the carbon sink and the ability to uptake carbon that we might continue to emit in the future”

(The Guardian)

So much we still don’t understand


“Some say we can ‘solar-engineer’ ourselves out of the climate crisis. Don’t buy it.”

“What could go wrong with this idea? Well, quite a lot”

(Ray Pierrehumbert and Michael Mann, The Guardian)

Some of these ideas are called “geoengineering” elsewhere.  My fear is that inaction (or inadequate action) now will force us into these risky projects in future.


There Are Massive Chemical Dumps In The Gulf We Know Almost Nothing About

“In the 1970s, the EPA allowed chemical companies to dump toxic waste into the deep sea. Now, oil giants are drilling right on top of it.”

(Huffington Post)

No comment


Earth Day has embraced hysteria and abandoned science

(Fox News)

Fox News is the leader in primetime viewership (in the USA) according to Nielsen Media Rating. Just one more reason why the trace supporting the 1bio stories needs to be accurate and complete. We will not sway the opinion of the committed Fox viewer by factual analysis, but we do need to solidify the opinion of the silent majority.

8th November 2022

Why is there a countdown to that date in the sidebar?

1 Because there will be a total lunar eclipse. 

It will be visible from Asia, Australia, North America, parts of northern and eastern Europe, and most of South America.  Click for more information with an animated map and lots of other interesting information.

2 Because on that day some 167,238 people will die and another 382,630 will be born. (Notice the discrepancy?)  Roughly 21.8 million will celebrate their birthday. Among them:

3 Because an election will be held in the USA.

“During this mid-term election, all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will be contested. Thirty-nine state and territorial gubernatorial and numerous other state and local elections will also be contested. This will be the first election affected by the redistricting that will follow the 2020 United States census.”

THIS ELECTION MATTERS

Sure it is “just” for the USA, but the tone set (t)here will affect decisions in other countries.  The promising steps taken by the Biden administration will most likely be blocked if either the House of Representatives or the Senate change hands.

Historically mid-term elections have seen less voter turnout (voting in the US is not mandatory) and have swung against the party of the president.

The odds of Republican control from 2023 on are very high given the senate is held by a majority of just 1 (actually 0, but a majority of 1 with the casting vote of the vice president) and the House by 7 (out of 435 – Wikipedia)

Let’s look back at the 2020 election results; some 158 million people voted. Of those 81.2 million for President Biden, 74.2 million for the ex-President.

But there are an estimated 239 million eligible voters in the US. That leaves the 2020 tally, in rounded numbers, as follows:

  • 81 million – No Vote
  • 81 million – Democrat
  • 74 million – Republican
  •   3 million – Other

Despite the complexity and biases of the US system there is an obvious answer, and many very, very smart people are trying to make it come true:

We need to get some portion of the 81 million “No Vote” voters to vote, and to vote our way.  It only needs a fraction of them, in the right locations, to create a landslide result and so set the conditions for real Environmental Healingor not.

There are very few days to make a difference > see sidebar

Climate Emergency

Emergency? Really?

“We are in an emergency. California is on the brink of drought, prompting fears of a new wave of devastating megafires later this year. Rising temperatures could soon make the planet’s tropical regions unlivable for humans. Yet a Guardian investigation recently found that only a small number of major countries have been pumping rescue funds into a low-carbon future.”

The above quote is from “The Guardian” of 12 April 2021.  It continues:

“Two years ago, the Guardian announced it was changing the language it uses to talk about the environment, eschewing terms like “climate change” for the more appropriately urgent “climate emergency”. Today, we are joined by others in the news industry, organizations that recognize that a global catastrophe is already here, and that without immediate action, it will get unimaginably worse.

These organizations are part of Covering Climate Now, an initiative founded in 2019 by Columbia Journalism Review and the Nation, with the Guardian as the lead partner, to address the urgent need for stronger climate coverage. More than 400 newsrooms from around the world – with a combined audience nearing 2 billion people – have joined Covering Climate Now”

On the same day the paper published the following, which just underscore the urgency:

Endangered US rivers at grave risk from dams, mining and global heating. New report lays out dire situation facing the most imperiled rivers but environmental activists say situation is salvable”

(…which is another supporting fact to my What Environmental Crisis? post  – file under Fresh Water)

Airborne plastic pollution ‘spiralling around the globe’, study finds. Rising levels of microplastic pollution raise questions about the impact on human health, experts say”

(…file this under Air)

Fukushima: Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea. Environmental groups and neighbours condemn plan to release more than 1m tonnes of contaminated water in two years’ time”

(…see my Nuclear Energy Story – the waste problem is not solved! Of course the ocean will hide it, like it does so many things – sigh)

For a slightly, only slightly, more lighthearted look at the whole issue look at “First Dog on the Moon”, an Australian cartoon (also published in The Guardian):

And then we have this tangentially related headline:

US CEOs think Biden’s corporate tax rate hike will have negative impact – survey. President’s proposed hike would raise corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% to pay for his $2.3tn infrastructure plan”

Surprise, surprise; CEO’s think paying more tax is not a good idea.

Bottom line: Great move by the Guardian and all the other associated media organizations. My point re 1biosphere remains;  These stories are not influencing enough of the people we need to reach – that silent majority who can move the political and social dynamics.  That needs your help.

What Environmental Crisis?

We are wounding the biosphere.  We need to stop, and then heal

My use of the terms “Environmental Crisis” and “Environmental Healing” needs further explanation.

The subject of Environmental Crisis / Healing is huge.  Trying to write short, sharp, accessible stories becomes very tough.  Maybe I am trying to do too much? 

But then that is exactly the point of “1biosphere” – not to reexamine the underlying research, or to once again produce another report, nor to rewrite an article about what we can expect and what needs to be done. Others, far more qualified, more eloquent and with far greater resources have done that valuable work.

What this site is about are 2 things: 

  • First;  find those very short stories that can capture the imagination of the currently silent majority and create a political, social and economic environment that will allow Environmental Healing, and
  • Second; underpin those stories by chains of fact – through those articles, reports and research – to show 1bio stories to be verifiably “true”.

And it needs your help.

In “The Idea” for 1bio I define the biosphere as being that closed system where all life occurs:

We humans are injuring every part of this system.  Many of these cuts, burns and poisonings are beyond the capacity of the biosphere to repair. Some will set off a cascade of further problems if we do not stop making the wounds bigger every day. That is why it is a crisis.

The biosphere does not care.  It will go on in one way or another.  But we need to care, because each injury to the system will rebound on us – biologically, economically, socially and spiritually.  The more we wound the system, the more we will be hurt in return.

We can’t escape that reality.  There is no alternate biosphere. We are physically part of it.  We are all inside it, together.

Of course there are deniers and vacillators.  They are not stupid.  They are intelligent, quick witted and can see where this is going.  There will be costs!  Costs not just in money terms, but in comfort, luxury, entitlements, rights. They can see these costs and are unwilling to pay the price. So they develop their own stories – sharp, compelling, vivid stories – promising an easy road to the future. Taken at face value their stories are more attractive than ours.  But they lack the supporting chain of facts.  And that is something we need to tackle as well.

By Environmental Healing I simply mean, first, stop harming the biosphere and, second, reverse the harm done – if that is even possible.

Practically every part of the biosphere is undergoing its own crisis.  Each one of these interacts with the others, compounding the difficulty of description, analysis and prediction.

With that said here are some “bullet points” of the  Environmental Crisis:

GLOBAL WARMING

Global Warming with all the consequences; Climate Change, Sea Level Rise, Intensity of Weather Events and so forth, captures most attention.  It is first because of the many negative effects and the size of the potential economic harm.  

I also believe that this is top of the list because it can be treated as a technical problem.  We speak of Gigatons of CO2, trapping of solar radiation, feedback loops, albedo and global average temperature changes in fractions of a degree.  We speak of the remedies in equally technological terms; carbon dioxide sequestration, solar PV, pumped storage, electric vehicles, advanced SMRs, shoreline protection, disaster resilience, ESG, geoengineering. 

MINING of MINERALS and COAL

Destruction of environment, pollution from the mining operation, tailing dumps and waste lagoons of toxic materials. Pollution of streams and groundwater.  Health effects on the workers and the surrounding communities.  Destruction of significant sites – biological, archeological and spiritual.

Phosphorus mining tailings and pond.  Riverview, Florida
Juukan Gorge, Western Australia. Site of human occupation for 46,000 years.  Before and after mining activity.

LIQUID and GAS FOSSIL FUELS

Quite apart from the CO2 released when these fuels are burnt (Really – we unearth these million year old treasures and burn them?) we have accidental releases of gas and/or oil during production, transport and refining. We have negative effects on all the living things near these sites.  Fracking chemicals.

SOIL

Agricultural practices, Deforestation, Salt pans when farming marginal land, Monocultures.

OCEANS 

Currents, Reefs, Aquatic life, Fishing, Acidification, Plastics.

FRESH WATER

Falling aquifers, Changing rainfall patterns, Pollution from personal, industrial and agricultural sources.

AIR

Pollution, Greenhouse Gases, More intense weather, Changed weather patterns.

PLANTS

Deforestation, Monocultures, Loss of diversity, Species loss, Invasive species, Insect infestations, Wildfires.

ANIMALS

Loss of diversity, Loss of species, Loss of habitat, Insect “collapse”. 

Wild land animals exist only at our pleasure.  Whales as well.  

Diagram from xkcd, Used under CCANC license and may be copied from here

HUMANS

Too many of us – we have tripled since I went to school.  It’s a hugely difficult subject but has to be discussed.  We consume too much.  We waste too much. We already have climate wars and climate refugees.  There will be more.  We cling to artificial concepts like nations, religions and politics.  The biosphere does not recognize any of those things.

The biosphere has gone through crises before.  Many in the long history of the planet, some within one human generation.  

The ancient crises; climate change, ice ages, meteorites, did massively change the biosphere and cause vast destruction.  But the repairs and adjustments were made over time spans we can barely imagine.  We, with our frantic lives, do not have the luxury of evolutionary or geologic time.

Two recent examples are the acid rain problem of the 1970 to 1990’s and the ozone holes, which came to public attention at much the same time.  Both were overcome, against resistance of course, but nevertheless with reasonable success and without huge economic impact.  

For acid rain the answer was scrubbing the exhaust gases of coal fired plants to reduce the emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.  

The ozone holes over each pole were tackled by an international agreement to phase out CFCs and Halons. The task is not over yet; NASA predicts the ozone holes will not return to 1980 levels until 2075.

There are lasting scars from both crises; eroded stone ornaments, disrupted plant and animal life, health issues such as skin cancers, breathing difficulties etc.  

If we could so “easily” resolve those crises why can’t we do the same for the current Environmental Crisis?  Because:

  • The problems were essentially technical and had known technical solutions
  • The problem could be solved by a relatively small number of corporations acting under public and government pressure and in their own self interest
  • The problems, although widespread, were not global
  • Most people did not have to change their way of life (except in some trivial ways; e.g. if you had an old car and could not obtain CFC to recharge the AC then the repair was very pricey)
  • Politics was simpler; governments made binding decisions and enforced them

Sadly none of those conditions apply to what we face today.

We are wounding the biosphere.  We need to stop, and then heal

Biden $2T plan

Below is a breakdown of the “Biden $2 trillion plan – which is great news but will be subject to a lot of tough negotiation. And here’s a hypothetical question: “Should a country spend the same amount on “green” programs as on the military (approx $5.6T over 8 years), or more?”

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So, what is the story?…

It’s great news, especially after the last 4 years.

But now it will be a fight for every penny. The minority leader in the US senate already announced that “I’m going to fight them every step of the way…”. We can be sure the plan will undergo alteration in the next few months. And who knows what will happen to it over the next 8 years.

We can also be sure that the military budget will be passed year after year.

Almost certainly the economic, social and national security implications of the Environmental Crisis will be larger than anything facing our military. The budget to fight the crisis should be the same or bigger than the military one.

Money

Money is our madness, our vast collective madness.  (D. H. Lawrence)

Given my personal relationship with money it is the height of folly to even approach this subject.  However, elsewhere I state that the Environmental Activists and their organizations are vastly outspent by players in “The Economy”.  So here I quote some numbers just to support that contention.

As a yardstick let me use the Earthshot Prize.  This is a sought after award introduced in 2020, with the first five winners to be announced in 2021.  Each winner will receive 1 million pounds to “inspire and celebrate new, collaborative action to meet the environmental challenges we face”. 

The Earthshot Prize then totals $US 65 million (approx) over 10 years (£50 million).  That sum is enhanced by the prestige, support and publicity surrounding the prize.  It is very generous and will no doubt be leveraged many times over by the recipients and the Earthshot Alliance.  

$65 million is:

  • The net income of Apple Inc. in 10 hours (2019)
  • Jeff Bezos’ net worth increase in 5 hours
  • Lockheed Martin’s sticker price for one F35 aircraft (plus another $65 million to fly it for about a year)
  • The value of oil shipped from Saudi Arabia in 3 days
  • The value of natural gas on 4 LNG carriers
  • US spending on pet food in 15 hours (source:Statista)
  • 5 ½ minutes of super-bowl  (US “football”) ads ($5.6 million per 30 seconds)
  • A bit less than the value of Everydays: the First 5,000 Days; a mosaic of every image that artist Mike Winkelmann, who goes by the name Beeple, has made since 2013. The artwork is attached to a non-fungible token (NFT), a digital certificate of authenticity that runs on blockchain technology.

…which handily provides a segue into crypto-currencies and NFTs

Crypto-currencies

When I saw the headline “Bitcoin uses more electricity than Argentina” my immediate reaction was to add Bitcoin, and all the other crypto currencies into the “bad” column.  Actually the “more bad” column, given my previous dismissal of crypto as a worthwhile investment (a predictable part of my relationship to money).

Then, inevitably, there is an opposing view in Forbes, which makes me rethink crypto. Does it need to go in the “Maybe not so bad” column?  Is it a valuable tool that allows fast and easy money transfers safe from inflation, exchange fees, dictatorial governments and confiscation? Is the energy cost justified?

Based on the Forbes article here are some comparison numbers and a concluding quote:

  • Electricity use in 1 year:
    • Bitcoin   12 TWh
    • Gold mining 132 TWh
    • Banking 140 TWh
    • Grid loss US 200 TWh (my calculation; 4009 TWh generated, 5% loss)

“The bottom line is this: as renewable energies become cheaper, bitcoin will become greener – and so will everything else. There is no question that bitcoin, the blockchain, cryptographic currencies, and DLT [Distributed Ledger Technology] protocols must all seek to lower their energy consumption and reduce their carbon footprints – but we all do: central banks, financial institutions, the mining sector… and you and me.”

The Biden green plan

$3 to maybe $4 trillion !

If the numbers being reported are correct that would be a green and gold* moment for the Environmental Crisis.

But there are a few issues:

  • The actual numbers are hard to parse.  It is just a plan, the numbers are under discussion.The legislation will go through lengthy negotiations and amendments before being passed.
  • Green spending is tied into a huge number of other priorities; highways, bridges, broadband, water and sewer lines, railways, ports, the grid, human infrastructure such as housing and child care etc.
  • Finally all of this spending is subject to reversal if power in the US government shifts again.  Hence 1biosphere and the call for stories to generate political action.

*which happen to be the national colors of Australia. The national colours, green and gold, hold a treasured place in the Australian imagination. Long associated with Australian sporting achievements, the national colours have strong environmental connections. Gold conjures images of Australia’s beaches, mineral wealth, grain harvests and the fleece of Australian wool. Green evokes the forests, eucalyptus trees and pastures of the Australian landscape.