The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

Water, water everywhere

I’ve written before about water, consumption, waste, and foolishness. Time to spin the dice and drag out a random rant about water.

The Dump Household received the water bill recently. Our average daily water consumption during 2009, so far, has been the lowest in the last 4 years. My previous estimates of our consumption have been a little on the high side.

Our water bills now come with a nice graph showing consumption over previous years, average daily consumption over the last year, and a nice table showing typical customers. I homed in on the consumption for a house of 4 people, and am rather surprised to find:

For a house with 4 Occupants (daily consumption)

No garden: 355 to 440 litres
Small garden: 440 to 545 litres
Medium garden: 490 to 600 litres
Large garden: 595 to 740 litres

Living as we do in the driest state of the driest continent on Earth – as we were continually told when I was at school – water storage, and water use is a big deal. And water use on our gardens is a significant part of consumption so that we can have a nice environment to live in during the warmer months.

So, in the context of the above typical figures it came as a huge surprise to find our water consumption is a mere 365 litres per day. That’s for nearly everything – washing clothes, showers, toilets, and watering the garden. The exception is drinking water ¬†- which comes from our own rainwater tank, in which a massive 200 litres can be stored and which does us all summer long.

That 365 litres includes two indulgences which I won’t back down on:

- I refuse to have a 4 minute shower. I have only 2 vices in this world – long showers and red wine, and I’m not going to give either of them up, thanks.

- We have an evil water wasting top-loader washing machine. Every front loader I’ve come across has a fatal design flaw: it’s a front loader. There is a huge pivot bearing at the back of the drum and they wear out due to the large forces involved. And they are without fail so damn slow that I fear reaching old age before they complete their idiotic cycles of backwardses and forwardses. So the top loader is not negotiable either.

However, the washing machine water does go on the lawn during the summer months, as does what we can collect using a bucket in the shower.

So our water consumption is 365 litres per day, which is in the range for 4 people in a house with either NO GARDEN, or a SMALL GARDEN. But we have neither. We live on an acre of land (about 0.4 hectares for those who speak the newfangled strange metric measure) – with fruit trees, lawns, gardens, roses. Keeping that alive with restrictions is very difficult. Keeping it alive and finding our consumption is about 1/2 what should be expected seems like a damn miracle.

I’m left wondering then, where on earth do people use water, if the normal consumption is around double what we use?

Which in turn brings me to three new points: Economics and the mentality of the masses, The failure of government policy, and Desalination. These I’ll cover in the next exciting¬†instalment or two.

A bushfire prediction

As the dust settles on the Victorian bushfires – for now – I offer this prediction.

This is based on long observation, old memories of the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires in South Australia, the later bushfires that began in the Adelaide Hills Stirling dump, and some of the newspaper reports now coming out.

Specifically, three reports:

- One from an expert on fires and fuel loads, who says that what happened is inevitable because of a refusal by both authorisities (local councils / shires) and people to do controlled fuel-reduction burns

- One about some people who were FINED for clearing scrub from around their house. Who then spent $100K on legal fees to eventually win against their council (who had fined them). Their house survived.

- And one about councils / shires in bushfire prone areas who encourage home owners to plant natives close to their houses.

So here are the predictions:

The Royal Commission will run for about 2 years, and hear much emotional and anguished evidence from many people.

Many experts and tree huggers will pontificate.

Greenies will claim that fuel reduction burning is bad / destroys habitat / hurts animals / damages trees / smells bad / is too difficult.

All of the old, old, well established and practical research and advice about fuel reduction (cool burning) will be dragged out AGAIN.

Many arsonists will be blamed for many of the ills.

The Royal Commission will eventually find that the land management practices of the shires involved were negligent, because of insufficient fuel reduction, poor building standards, poor enforcement of building standards, and in some cases just downrigh stupid practices.

Following this, the legal action will begin. This will run for another 2 to 3 years.

This will take the form of a class action lawsuit brought against the shire in question, which will be bankrupted in order to pay the damages awarded.

The shire / council will collapse and be forced to merge with another adjacent shire/council.

The people on the shire/council which caused the damage, due to their silly, ignorant or uninformed views, will escape with damaged repuations but no personal liability or damages award against them (such being the nature of corporate vs personal responsibility.


Sound far fetched?

This is the way it’s played out in South Australia several times. Short memories abound.

Water (again… arrrggghhh)

There was an interesting article on the news this morning.

The Victorian Government is setting a lower target for Melbourne household water consumption: reducing from 180 litres per person per day, to 155 litres.

There was a slightly snide remark that the South Australian Government has not set a similar household target for Adelaide, relying instead on whole-of-city targets. Boo Hoo. They went on to say that if such targets were adopted in South Australia they would have to be higher, because there is a naturally higher rainfall in Melbourne.

This set me wondering: what is our water consumption. I dug out the last meter readings: our total consumption in the last 12 months is 248,000 litres. (248 kl). A quick calculation yields 679 litres per day. But there are 4 of us, so on the same basis as the Victorian targets, thats 169 litres per person per day.


We are not just 4 people, we also have a large lawn (which gets the outfall of the washing machine, and a limited amount of legal watering using a drip system), there is also 1/2 an acre of fruit trees which are watered, legally, using micro-irrigation. And there are is about a kilometre of black dripper pipe here which I turn on once in a blue moon.

So we’ve been saving water agressively for a long, long time (I hate paying money out). With a block of land about 6 times that of a normal moden block, our consumption for all of that is below the current Victorian target and only moderately above their new target.

Which leads to two results:

- What on earth do people on normal size plots of land do with all the water they consume?

- I should feel pretty chuffed, we’re not doing too badly here in outer-bogansville!

Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink

It’s been raining cats and dogs here for the last week or so, with more coming for at least the next week. Compared to last winter, the drought in Adelaide at least has broken. Inland – still a different story.

Which brings me to water.

It looks like the local Water Minister, Karlene Maywald, will lose her seat at the next election because the country people in her electorate are so pissed off at what they see as all talk and no action. The perception is that those evil bastards upstream have oodles of water and want to make sure we don’t get a drop, here in South Australia, at the tail end of their sewer.

This is partly true and partly baloney, but when people are pissed off they lash out, sometimes unreasonably. The state government here can’t make it rain. And the much heralded new deals from the new Federal Government are all just so much long-term hot-air, with NSW and Victoria having effectively delayed any substantial changes to their water over-allocation policies for a good 10 years.

The really strange thing is that Mike Rann, Premier of SA and supposed Master Strategist And Student Of Machiavelli, seems to have (if you’ll excuse the expression) gone to water on the whole issue.

The same Mike Rann who fought the Federal Government’s nuclear waste dump has a golden opportunity to make a big gesture. Something symbolic that will yield a small benefit and a huge symbolic win. Right now a big fuss is being made about the Federal Government inaction when they could be buying the huge water guzzling cotton farms like Cubbie Station, and a few others.

While the world whines, I’m sure Mike Rann could dredge up $600 million or so and go buy all those properties, dismiss the staff, and pump out their massive water storages.

Just imagine if the SA goverment bought those properties! Rann would be a hero on SA, and the most evil bugger on the planet in the eastern states. It would secure his victory at the next election, and relegate his opponent Mr Stunt-Man-Smith to a spitting, scratching, name-calling ninny for the next decade.

Bold action has been taken before – dare they do it again?

Actually DOING something about Climate Change

Over on Jeremy, he’s posted about the Garnaut report. I’ve no idea if he is serious or taking the piss.

I posted a comment, along the lines of my recent post about how everything Australia does is meaningless, and I’ve been torn apart (as usual) along two lines:

1) My definition of a closed system is wrong.

2) I’m immoral and we should DO SOMETHING because to do nothing is (morally) WRONG.

I’ve posted a long comment there, and then thought Obuggerit, I’ll post here as well.

Point 1: Closed System.

The planet is a closed system. Doing stuff in Australia makes sod-all difference if things are not done everywhere. To mix metaphors, you CANNOT be half pregnant, but Australia taking some kind of moral high ground is trying to do just that.

For the person who picked on my statement about “closed system” and went off into thermodynamics: Sorry – you are nit-picking.

As far as climate and CO2 are concerned you can ignore all the second order effects of thermodynamics, its irrelevant for all practical purposes.

If all you do is consider CO2 emissions globally, the point is that there seems to be an attitude that Australia changing its emissions will suddenly fix all problems, stop the drought, and so on. This is plainly bollocks.

As far as world CO2 emissions are concerned, it does not matter whether the CO2 is emitted in Australia, Antarctica or Callathumpia. When it’s in the air, it’s in the air.

So Australia doing STUFF without others doing STUFF is meaningless tokenism.

Point 2: Doing meaningful STUFF.

Australia can make a contribution which is NOT meaningless tokenism, but doing so is difficult.

Here is a prescription in 4 parts. All or nothing. All parts work together, all needed.

1/ Fund research into 10 or 20 new methods of generating electricity from solar.

Why solar?

The solar power falling on the surface of the earth is about 1000 Watts / m^2. If all that energy could be used, the roof of a typical house will produce something like 70 kW, more than enough for that house and many others. Even allowing for poor efficiency and cloud cover, getting 10 to 20 kW should be achievable.

Power grids help shift power from places with light to places without. Storage is a problem but is improving. Fund research there as well.

Right now solar is not affordable to all but the very rich, and the solar that’s available is photovoltaic, and based on some pretty old technology.

There is also dye solar in research which promises to be dramatically cheaper. FUND IT!

What about the Heliostat solar furnace? FUND IT!

How about the Power Tower, using pure convection? FUND IT!

There will be a bunch more. Fund them.

Be prepared to accept that of 10 to 20 funded developments, only 2 will be winners. The rest will be dead ducks. Get over it.

But then do steps 2, 3 and 4 (doing step 1 without the others is madness):

2/ A condition of funding research is that the scientists must be kept on a tight reign and the engineers let in.

Publishing papers (the reason for existence of the scientist) spreads the joy, and loses the rewards. Be sure, anybody else following the prescription will be doing these steps as well. Australia must learn!

Funding research will bring out every crackpot, looney, and rent-seeker imaginable. Accepting only proposals which include engineering, design, pilot plants and evaluation will help keep this in check.

Research without pilot plants is useless, so an outcome of research (a condition for getting the money) HAS to be that a pilot plant is to be constructed. The engineers are needed for that. Let em in early.

3/ Don’t permit publication of anything. No papers, nuffink, until the pilot plants have been built and THE PATENTS HAVE BEEN APPLIED FOR.

Historically Australia has been great at doing research and creating intellectual property, and poor at making a quid from those activities. This must cease. Patents are the only method. Use them.

4/ License the patents worldwide at reasonable costs, so the fruits of the research, pilot plants, and so on can be made available to all. AT A PRICE.

If we pay for the research it is only right and fair that we share the rewards. The license fees should be set by the Australian Govt (which funds the activities). And they should be reasonable.

And finally and most important, defend in courts of law the patents to ensure that the fruits of the Australian taxpayer are not stolen.


This is a concrete approach, with a 10 to 20 year horizon it could lead to a transformation. It can benefit all instead of doing a tokenistic, paternalistic, “poor little me” bullshit line, which is what Oz is doing right now. It can benefit all. It can reward Australians for their taxes being used for the benefit of all.


Those who attack me for having the the “we should not bother” line because others do worse are simply pious. Taking that approach without doing something tangible is simply to take the moral high ground. Doing that, we will have the most moral-high-ground-pious unemployed population living in a drought on earth. Whoopy-do.

Grr B#$%&y introspective narrow minded F@#$ers

OK kiddies, settle yourselves down for a good old-fashioned rant.

Grab yourself a cuppa, this might take a while.

Greenhouse -> Climate Change + Drought = Proof !!

Have you noticied how we’ve all morphed from the geek-term “Greenhouse Effect” to slightly less geeky “Global Warming”, to the now politically correct, ungeeky “Climate Change”?

All this presupposes that the theories, and the data upon which they are based, are both accurate and correct.

STOP SCREAMING. Those who say “look at the current Australian drought” need to take a big dose of Mogodon and loosen up. The current Australian drought proves nothing, one way or the other. Australia has, according to the historical record, been through about a 50 year period of unusually HIGH rainfall, and now seems to be moving back to something more normal. Ask your parents or grandparents how much it used to rain in the 1930’s.

I’m pissed off that we have patronising people saying “look at what we are living through” as if this is proof. The proof will be found in another 50 to 100 years, not now. Get a grip. It’s a THEORY. According to the scientific method, you propose a theory, then you must find evidence both FOR and AGAINST. A Theory is rarely proved and easily disproved. Proof is not 1 or 2 years of lack rain. Proof is data over a long, long period. We have insufficient data to prove anything one way or the other.

Back in the 1950’s, every time there was a dry year, or a wet year, or the wind blew unusually strongly from the North-East, the blame was “the BOMB”. The A-bomb, that is. Young folks, go ask your parents. Say “The Bomb” and get them to tell you what it was all about.

We all love to blame something or someone for our ills. If a big nasty conspiracy is involved it’s even better. Time to take a reality check guys.

DON’T GET ME WRONG: This is not an excuse to buy V8 cars and leave all the lights on. Keep reading.

Local Government

We have the unedifying spectacle of various arms of government moving beyond hysterical hand-wringing about climate change, and now starting to impose charges and levies. Some local councils (not in Adelaide, yet, that I know of) are now imposing climate change charges.

Local government! These guys are supposed to collect your garbage!

What the heck are they doing imposing climate change charges? And what will they do with the money? Buy a bigger car for the Mayor?

These mad bastards should be taken out and shot. This is lunacy. The difference that local government can make is SOD ALL. See more below. The difference Australian can make is ZIP, and local government is ZIP SQUARED.

Again, get a bloody grip.


In Australia we have posturing and harping by our politicians, on the 2 major sides, and the usual bullshit from the minor parties and interest groups.

The Chinese are building 200 new airports. RIGHT NOW. That makes the airports, air traffic, and flights in Australia look like a minnow against a shark.

The Chinese bring on line new electricity generation equal to the ENTIRE Australian generation capacity, EVERY 9 months.

While we fiddle, Rome is burning, literally, but in China. The Chinese don’t give a flying F#$@ about any of our hand-wringing, they just get on with building stuff to make a better life for their people.

In the meantime, we argue, and waste hot-air on stupid things like whether the government car fleet should change from a Statesman to a Toyota Prius, or Hybrid Camry!

For crying out aloud, the change of government cars in the fleet won’t make a blind bit of difference in the long run to ANYTHING when there are other counties in the world adding emissions at the rate of THOUSANDS of Statesman cars per day!

Again, start looking past the end of your nose, Australia, what you do makes miniscule difference. It’s so small as to be insignificant. Making the guy in the street pay for a few rich people’s pious indulgence is patronising, rude, and totally worthless. We deserve better.

Australia cutting emissions in any form is roughly equivalent to zipping down to your local jetty and pissing off the end of it, then trying to measure the rise in sea level as a consequence. Australia cutting emissions by changing a few government cars to imported hybrids is equivalent to zipping down to that same jetty and tossing half a thimble-full of pee in the ocean, then measuring.

Petrol Prices

Oil prices rose. So petrol prices rose. Oil is a declining resource. Maybe we’ve hit “peak oil”, maybe not. Finding new oil is increasingly difficult and expensive, so the case for peak-oil is looking better with each passing day. In that case, it’s natural for the price to rise. This is basic, basic economics.

And rise the price damn well should. Oil has always been priced for the here-and-now, basically the cost of extraction + a profit margin.

Oil has never been priced as a one-off opportunity for the people of the planet, if it had, it would have been priced far higher from the very early days, on the grounds that it should last mankind forever. But that’s not how capitalism works. Dollars today and stuff the future!

Oil has so many benefits: in production of energy, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and fertiliser. It is completely undervalued and because of the low price we abuse it to create motor sport (!), and make stupid things like cheap kids toys (all crap, all break easily, all made in low cost countries) and plastic shopping bags! Madness!

In the face of rising oil prices, we have dickheads like Brendon Nelson, Leader of Her Majesties Opposition, finally finding a way of rattling the new government by promising to cut petrol taxes by $0.05 / litre. HE IS NOT EVEN IN GOVERNMENT. IT’S STUPID! When petrol prices are $1.60 / litre, that 5 cents means NOTHING. It’s maybe $1 in a $50 tankful, unless of course you are foolish enough to drive one of those 4WD monsters, in which case it might be $5. But tough – your lifestyle choice, don’t complain!

Brendon Nelson is twitching the hip-pocket nerve as hard as he can go, on something that is symbolic and meaningless, as well as foolish. Reducing petrol prices leads to increases in emissions and worsens climate change, something he now believes in after the demise of his former glorious leader! Mixed messages anybody?

Reducing taxes and thus prices encourages MORE consumption of a precious and declining resource. It also sends all the wrong signals about the level of control a government has about world prices for commodities. And it reduces government revenue, which just means that taxes elsewhere rise to compensate. Petrol tax is a GOOD TAX. It taxes consumption! Spend less, pay less tax! (Income taxes on the other hand, are EVIL TAXES).

Banning The Bulb

Next on the list for the feel-good wankers is the move to ban the incandescent light-bulb. We get non-technical conservationists say completely stupid things like “the technology is 100 years old, its time for it to go”.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiighhhhhht ?!

And replaced by what? The only currently viable replacement (barring going back to candles) is the Compact Fluorescent lamp.

We have a Federal Government department pushing down this road as hard as they can possibly go. There are no quality standards for CF lamps, so these guys have written one. It’s on path to becoming an international standard and might get there in about another 2 years. In the meantime, they will try and impose an interim standard which might get up about the time of ban-the-bulb if we get lucky. Can anybody else see cart before horse here?

And why the heck does the Australian Government have 4000 CF lamps on test IN BEIJING? Why can’t they test them in Australia? They were all bought in Australia. And why does the standard and test regime not take into account things like the switching cycles used in toilets, pantries, bathrooms and so on? One or two switching cycles per day is not the normal cycle for a dunny-lamp.

The CF lamp contains mercury. About 5 mg in each lamp. Mercury is a toxin. So we will have to put oodles of that in every household. Clever. The public servants claim that the mercury level is very low, and burning coal puts mercury into the atmosphere, using CF lamps results in a NET reduction. Maybe. But power stations are not in every home. The CF lamps will be. How many will get broken? And what about the concentration in the waste dumps?

CF lamps also screw up the mains supply, they have a couple of very undesirable properties: Bad Power Factor, and Harmonics. Only the folks in the power authorities understand the consequences, certainly not the simpletons in government or the conservation movement. Bad Power factor means the power utilities have the spend a pot of dough adding new equipment to the electricity systems to correct for it. Which WE pay for. And harmonics… well they just screw up the operation of other equipment and cause radiated electro-magnetic noise.

Some realities of the CF lamp:

  • To extract and recover the mercury safely you need a separate waste collection system. Putting dead CF lamps in general landfill waste is polluting. The cost of a separate waste collection system is huge. But it’s not part of the picture because A DIFFERENT GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT LOOKS AFTER THAT STUFF. And is a separate waste system was in place, how much would it be used? Don’t count the wealthy inner-city dwellers with a social conscience, include the single mums and deadbeats in the outer suburban fringes where the living is cheap. Where will the dead CF lamps go? Bleeding obvious, that one.
  • There are currently no standards for construction and performance of a CF lamp. These are supposed to be coming. But the standards don’t include catastrophic failure! Some fail in spectacular ways. I’ve had one explode with a huge flash, a loud bang and big puff of smoke. What’s in the smoke? Will it harm my health? NOBODY KNOWS. A colleague of mine has had one explode, where the explosion was severe enough to break the lamp, and the fitting, and leave a shower of broken glass all over the floor. AND THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE GOOD FOR US? A quick poll the other night at the presentation about this showed 6 other people have had them explode – in the last few months. Once upon a time this never happened. As the CF lamp has got cheaper, the explosions have become more frequent.
  • The touted lifetimes are generally bullshit. I’ve been using CF lamps for 15 years, and I write the installation date on the base each time I fit one. THEY STILL SAVE ME MONEY, but the 5000 to 8000 hour lifetime is optimistic at best and lies at worst. The standards MIGHT result in honesty of the claimed lifetimes. We’ll see.
  • CF lamps have a warm-up time, this is typically 1 to 5 minutes or thereabouts. When first turned on the light output is dramatically lower than a few minutes later.
  • CF lamp lifetime drops significantly with switching, so places where they are switched frequently like stairwells, bathrooms, toilets, pantries will see dramatically shorter life. That means the effective cost is higher. The damn lamps are already costing $7. In most houses about 1/3 of the places where lighting is used are switched frequently and are unsuitable for CF lamps.
  • You can’t use a CF lamp as the light in your fridge, oven or microwave.
  • Depending on who you talk to… when a total energy balance is done, including the energy and environmental costs used in manufacture, shipping, use, and disposal, the CF lamp actually comes in about equivalent to the supposedly evil and obsolete incandescent. The government people claim this is not that case. Who do we believe?

These people, from the Government, sent to help us, say that the early problems with CF lamps in particular the warm-up time and lifetime are solved problems – not an issue. I REALLY DO NOT LIKE BEING LIED TO. The CF lamps I bought 2 weeks ago still take 2 minutes to reach full light output.

These same folks from the government showed the components of domestic energy consumption. Lighting shows a growth of about 25% over about the 40 years beginning 1980. On the other hand, the REALLY BIG consumers are Televisions (growth of about 400%) and Swimming Pools (about 300%). Tackling the backyard pool and the plasma TV will deliver huge bang for buck. Instead, a vast effort is going into something with only a small impact.

Banning of the bulb will make a few pollies and greenies feel better but actually make little difference to anything. Any effect will be small, and the pollution of waste sites by mercury may actually cause serious long term problems that will only be found in the next one or two hundred years.

There is hope on the horizon: the white LED is currently frightfully expensive, but does promise higher efficiency of conversion of electricity to light, and a lifetime about 10x that of the CF lamp. This is a technology in its infancy, which still has many problems to solve. But in the long run, the CF lamp is a lame duck.

If our government was serious, it would not even try to ban the incandescent lamp. It would instead apply a tax to make incandescent lamps cost about $4 to $5 each, comparable to a CF. Then, you would use whatever was most suited to the application: incandescent for frequent switching and instant-on. CF’s for places that are turned on and left on. The market would sort it out.

BUT FOLKS IF YOU ABSOLUTELY CANNOT USE A CF IN SOME APPLICATIONS THEN GO BUY A STACK OF EVIL INCANDESCENT LAMPS NOW, cos soon you won’t be able to get them at all. I’ve got a cupboard full, and I’m buying more every chance I get.

Weaning Ourselves Off Oil and Changing The Character Of Our Cities

This one really gets on my nerves. It’s been brought about by the high price of oil, so more people are using public transport (fine, good thing).

We have pronouncements now from patronising twerps in the conservation movement saying stupid things like “we must wean ourselves off oil” (ok, fair enough, to a point. Kill the Hummers through high fuel prices and I’m won over), and “We must redesign our cities for public transport”.

Well…. On this point… How? And who pays?

This kind of pronouncement is stupid in the extreme. How are we to re-design the cities AND SUBURBS in which millions of people live? The houses are there, the roads are there, the services are buried under the ground. How are we to make these places more suited to walking, public transport, and less use of the car?

Have any of the people who say this crap looked around the outer suburbs? Have they ever been to Golden Grove (in Adelaide), or Melton or Thomastown (in Melbourne), or Seven Hills or the Western Suburbs of Sydney? These places are so far out in the sticks its not funny. And the masters of the universe who plan these places don’t believe in streets that make walking easy. Instead we have the maze of twisty passages. But it looks nice.

The only way to really REDESIGN our cities for public transport is to use an atomic bomb to wipe the slate clean and start again.

These conservationists must have come from the same primeval swamp as a well-known Adelaide property developer and home builder, who believes that all development and planning controls should be scrapped to allow unfettered house building where he and his cronies see fit. Except in the hills, where he lives. Cos that’s special.

Means testing the solar energy rebate

I’ve ranted about this before. Solar energy is expensive. Very expensive. If the government seriously wants to have renewable energy being used it has to be produced.

In the absence of simply making everybody pay more for power via a tax or a ban on the burning of coal, the only other way to influence a market economy is by subsidy or rebate. The solar cell rebate did not ever cover the total cost of installation, so the only people who were installing solar power were the rich people with a social conscience. Using the rich people, plus a government subsidy has the effect of transferring the wealth of the rich to everybody else!

So what does this dumb-arse government do? They slap a means test on the rebate so now the only people who will get help with installing solar power are those who cannot afford to do so. There is something bizarrely Pythonesque about this.

Strangely enough, the forward order books for solar power have dropped 90%!

And the idiots in this government argue that the means test will result in an INCREASE in the installations of solar power! I’m sure they will next argue that black is white! MORONS!

So what REALLY gets my goat then?

It should be obvious… Dumb crap from by people who don’t THINK.

For the benefit of future generations we should consume less. Less oil. Less food. Less electricity. Within reason. Whether or not this has an affect on the climate will be proven sometime in the next 50 to 100 years. In the meantime we don’t need to be greedy.

Prices for things like oil should rise to reflect their long-term worth. In the meantime is we want to use renewable energy we need to pay for it. Using the rich and the government is as good a way as any. Using the poor is implausible and foolish.

In the future, some of our cities will seriously suck, having been built around the car. Adding or improving public transport will be difficult or frightfully expensive. Idiots telling us to redesign our cities don’t help because they are not proposing a solution, just spouting ignorant motherhood.

Stupid moves to save by tokenism – like hybrid cars and banning the bulb – will have no effect at all on the planet or the climate. Serious saving, well-considered, for good, well-thought-out reasons is fine, but tokenistic dictates from some idiot in Canberra (previously a Merchant Wanker, and now a former rock singer) are paternalistic, demeaning, transparent political games which have great cost and no appreciable effect.


Walking at Waterfall Gully

Today we did something “different”. After an early start, leaping out of bed at 9:30am (hey, this is Sunday, the day made for sleeping in), we hoofed it to Waterfall Gully for a bit of a walk.

Oldest son was itching for walking: “c’mon, c’mon”. He was bitterly disappointed to find that the walk from the car part to the first falls was a mere 200 metres:

First Falls

After messing with his brain a bit, we took the path to the top of the first falls, and from there headed up. He was dead keen to do the 3.4 km walk to the top of Mount Lofty but we dissuaded him, and instead took the 1.5 km track to Eagle-On-The-Hill.

Along the way, I had to leap into the creek for some messing about with the new camera. I really like the effect you can get with running water and a SLOW shutter speed. In this case, about 1/10th second makes the water all swirly:

There IS water in the creek

A quick stop along the way at Second Falls:

Second Falls

Then, up, up and more up:

Onward and upward

As you climb, the view out over the city gets better and better. But I really liked the view over the valley to the far hillside with the white trunks of the trees visible:

White trunks

Finally, after about an hour, we made it to the top (with a very boring photo of the OLD main road at Eagle on the Hill, which is not worth putting here). At the top we were somewhat surprised to actually find the obligatory drop-bear:

Drop-bear at the top

From here, the same trip downhill all the way was a mere 25 minutes!

An hour’s sleep after getting home helps in recovering. The ability to walk should come back in 3-4 days…

Budget Rant

The new government has announced a series of small changes to taxes & charges in the recent Budget.

For the most part, I can’t really grizzle too much. Though they could have gone further in some areas.

So just for the heck of it, here’s a bit of an opinionated budget-rant.

The Laptop Computer Scam

How this has lasted as long as it did is beyond me. The arrangement used to be that you could salary sacrifice to buy a laptop PC using pre-tax income. This gave an effective discount on the sticker price of 30% to 40% depending on income.

Then, you could claim depreciation each year on the cost of the machine – but the depreciation was claimed on the amount paid, even though paid with pre-tax income. Effectively, you were claiming depreciation on the cost, not the amount paid in after-tax dollars. The long term effect was that when written off completely over a period of 5 or so years, the laptop PC would have cost LESS than nothing. In other words, us other taxpayers were paying a subsidy to those who bought the laptop and then claimed depreciation.

The changes mean that laptops need to be substantiated and used for work purposes, it seems the ability to depreciate will be removed, though that’s not completely clear.

Removal of a a double-benefit like this is No Bad Thing.

Means-testing of benefits

The baby bonus (also know as the plasma-TV bonus) will be means-tested and paid in forthnightly installments instead of a lump sum.

The means-test is probably no bad thing, though with all the other zillions of family benefits, assistances, and so on that are available, I don’t really see why we need a specific baby bonus anyhow. It was just pork-barrelling by the previous government.

As for payment in 13 easy instalments… I wonder how long it will be before the big electrical retailers are offering big-ticket items that can be paid in EXACTLY 13 easy instalments?

Similarly, the previous Family Tax Benefit B will be means-tested. Probably no bad thing, after all, why should my taxes be used to subsidise the private school fees and fashionable clothing for the already well-off?

No doubt a stack of public servants will need to be employed to check and police all this stuff. I’ve never understood Family Tax Benefit B, and have never claimed it. I suspect I should amend a few years of past income tax returns, but I just can’t be bothered trying to find what it’s about. Besides, I don’t want the government to know any more about me than they already do, so keeping out of the evil clutches of the social security dept and tax office is a Good Thing.

Means Testing the Photo-Voltaic Rebate

Now (tah-dah) CONTENTIOUS TIME. This one I do have a problem with.

In short, households with an income of over $100K won’t get the rebate if they install a solar photo-voltaic system. The PV rebate is worth a LOT of money – something like $8K, or similar.

The logic here is, again, something along the lines of: Why provide middle-class welfare?

And that’s fine and dandy on the face of it, but it’s a bit more subtle in this case.

The new government are green-house believers, Kyoto-protocol-signers, who want to see Australia cut its emissions of CO2.

If they are serious, they need to look at the cost of energy from many sources. Markets are normally driven by prices, and energy from coal and gas is CHEAP. To move away from these energy sources to something more expensive is not going to happen unless there is a good short-term incentive. (A few rare people will shell out their hard-earned for a long term payback, but this is the exception, not the rule.)

Solar power is not cheap, its very expensive, mainly because of the up-front purchase price of the panels. But Australia is blessed with a lot of sunshine, and the amount of power from the sun amounts to about 1 kW per square metre. The efficiency of conversion means it’s very difficult to extract more than about 25% of that, but we do have a lot of roof area in the nation! If you had to choose a country to roll out a lot of solar power, Australia ranks up in the top few.

Fundamentally, the government message is “we are terribly worried about greenhouse”. They go off hand-wringing, and then offer an incentive only to the working poor to do anything about it. Even after the PV rebate, the cost of installing solar panels is thousands of dollars. Few people with a household income below $100K can afford an up-front hit of $2K to $5K (with the rebate picking up the balance). On the other hand, those who are deemed to be well-off CAN afford to spend some of their own money, and usually have both the social conscience and income to want to do something.

So by putting this means-test in place, the government show themselves to be massive hypocrites. The take-up of solar power will plummet because the well-off who would have paid a few thousand will now be expect to pay about 3 to 5 times as much, and the not-so-well-off won’t be able to afford the smaller amount they would need to pay anyhow. CLEVER MOVE, NOT.

Two Caravans

I’ve just finished reading “Two Caravans” by Marina Lewycka.

As well as being a rollicking good read, it’s changed my approach to some of the food we eat. I can’t look at those nice packets of chicken in the supermarket in quite the same way, any more.

The description of intensive chicken farming (admittedly in Britain) is terrible and I’m well and truly put off.

I’ll take the liberty of quoting a few passages to illustrate the point:

When Neil opens the door of the barn for him to look inside, a wave of heat and stench hits him, and in the half-darkness he sees just a thick carpet of white feathers; then as Neil turns up the light, the carpet seems to be moving too; no, crawling; no, seething. They are so tightly packed you can’t make out where one chicken ends and next next begins. And the smell! It hits him in the eyes as well as the nose – a rank cloud of raw ammonia that makes his eyes burn, and he coughs and backs away from the door, his hand over his mouth. He has seen paintings of the damned souls in hell, but they are nothing compared to this.


… they call them chickens, but their bodies look more like a misshapen duck’s – huge bloated bodies on top of stunted little legs, so that they seem to be staggering grotesquely under their own weight.

‘Yeah, they breed ‘em like that to get fat, like, quicker.’ … ‘It’s the supermarkets, see? They go for big breasts. Like fellers, eh?’

… ‘They keep the lights on low, so they never stop for a kip – just keep on feeding all night. … They mix the feed with that anti-bio stuff, like, to stop ‘em getting sick.’

Later, the description of catching the chickens is quite appalling.

Then we get to bit about how they are slaughtered:

When the chickens arrived at the slaughterhouse, Tomasz’s job was to hang them up by their feet in shackles suspended from a moving overhead conveyor, where they dangled, squarking hopelessly, especially those with broken legs… as the conveyor despatched them, head first, through a bath of electrified water, which was supposed to stun them, before their throats were cut with an automatic blade. But just in case the water didn’t work or the blade missed, which was often enough, there were a couple of slaughtermen standing by to slit their throats before they were sent through to the steam room, where they were plunged into the scalding tank to loosen the feathers. Then they were mechanically de-feathered and de-footed before being eviscerated by another team of slaughtermen.

Somewhere along the way we learn that the chicken is injected with water, salt, pork meat and “other stuff” to make them look plump.

I’m pretty sure the latter (injecting…) does not happen in Australia where food standards seem to be marginally better, but this all tallies with British Bacon.

Years ago we were travelling around the UK, and found that the bacon wouldn’t crisp, if you put in a pan it would boil and all this watery crud would come out before you could eventually get it to brown a bit. We were later told that the bacon has water injected into it. Great for getting the weight higher, but tastes like crap. At least Australian bacon is not that bad, so I’m hoping the chicken gets slightly better treatment as well.

And European orange juice tastes strange as well. Turns out that here we use the orange juice. The British stuff (god knows where it comes from) is crushed whole oranges – including all the bitter oils that come from the skins.

ANYHOW – if you get a chance, read it. You’ll never look at intensively farmed meat, fruit, or vegetables the same way again.

Entertaining, good fun, and appalling – all at the same time.



Soursob or Oxalis pes-caprae

Highly invasive, a noxious weed.

We have this stuff everywhere. Spraying helps for a year or two, pulling it up does nothing much. It chokes out other plants and grasses, and is generally impossible to get rid of.

But it does look kind of good in the early morning sun with a few droplets left from last night’s rain.

Fuel economy

From my father, who has just driven to Melbourne and back.

The car is a Honda Accord, or Prelude, or something like that.

Several years ago, I was sitting alongside a couple of retired mechanical engineers from XXXX (former employer) both of whom were espousing the use of high octane ULP and saying that they made up the extra cost by getting extra fuel economy and performance. One of them drove a Volvo which should have made me wary.

Last April [2006], I drove the Honda back from Melbourne on one tank of petrol. It was standard ULP and we covered 733km on 54 litres or 7.37 litres per 100 km or 38.28 miles per gallon while cruising at the speed limit with the air conditioning on and with automatic transmission etc.

So yesterday at Hamilton [Victoria], I thought that I would test the theory and see what improved fuel economy would be achieved with Super grade ULP.

Accordingly, I filled right up with 49 litres of the very best Shell high octane ULP and off we went to Horsham, then on to Warracknabeal and up to Brim. A look around various cemeteries finding graves of ancestors and lunch at Warracknabeal and then a steady drive home.

Now all of this was on good roads, almost flat country with no stop/start traffic, just the occasional stops for lunch and necessary toilet and coffee activities. No hill climbing and not really any heavy road traffic and at the end of the day we had covered 691 km and at the same Shell service station as last year, I put in 53 litres of standard ULP.

The super-high grade ULP gave a fuel economy of 7.67 litres / 100 km or 37.6 mpg.

That is, the higher grade fuel gave a very slightly worse economy than the standard fuel.

Ah well, bang goes another engineering urban myth.

Tread Lightly

With the hoo-hah about banning lightbulbs, my boss has taken a very philsophical approach.

See, I work for a company that designs, makes and sells energy management systems. Part of what we offer is doo-dads and gadgets for the lifestyle-of-the-future, but a big part is to reduce energy consumption. The examples are very basic: dimming lights, putting on automatic timers (so they turn off after a period), setting schedules for commercial buildings – because people always forget to turn out the lights.

A move to ban conventional light bulbs will certainly mean that the Chinese curse applies: we will have to live in interesting times.

Then comes the boss fella, quoting Gandhi, and urging us to tread lightly on the earth.

He’s from a very well-off family, dedicated to his work and family and torn by the conflicts of time that senior positions demand. Never, ever, though, had I expected him to interested in Gandhi.

A surprise pops up every day!


Big article in the Weekend Financial Review about water, Murray River, etc. mainly looking at the town of HAY, in NSW.

Hay used to be a pretty dry place – but a few years ago somebody put in big open trench irrigation ditches (a mere 20 km of it) to bring in irrigation water. Now Hay has loads of water, and the Hay plain is used for growing RICE (!!!???!!!), corn, grass for grazing, etc etc.

So, the big moan in the weekend paper is about what the drought, and the cut in irrigation quotas will mean for rural communities and Hay as an example.

CRANKY ATTACK #1. Hang on a mo. The irrigation is artificial, and extremely inefficient. And these people have the hide to whine about cuts in the quota. Give me a break. It’s people like this who have f*&^ed the system up for everybody else.

Particular focus in the article on one farmer, supposedly responsible, who said (I’m paraphrasing but the gist of it is the same):

I own water, and I’ll use it wherever the economic return is greatest. At the moment, that’s rice, so I’ll grow rice.

CRANKY ATTACK #2. For starters, this guy DOES NOT OWN WATER. He has an allocation, granted by a stupid and short-sighted state government. That allocation might have a value, but he does not OWN water in a river system. The water in the river system belongs to everybody. He has rights to it, whether allocated on a rational basis or not. And those rights affect many more people than just him. Responsible farmer? I think not.

CRANKY ATTACK #3. Geez. Growing rice. Which sells in the supermarket for about $1 a bag, and barely competes on price with the Asian imports. Something is seriously wrong if the higher cost of local labour means that Australian rice can compete with imports. And that something that is wrong is the cost of water. If jerks like this paid a more reasonable cost for a scare commodity, they would use their (or a smaller) water allocation for something more effective.

After reading this, I’m really grumpy. State governments need to admit the error of their ways, take back or buy back water licenses granted, and cut down on stupid irrigation. At the same time the cost of irrigation water needs to be PERMANENTLY increased – not just in times of drought, but forever. We need permanent economic signals, not short term chopping and changing.


Dought, water, and what-not

So, what do we do about water, and shortages?

There is no simple, one-fits-all solution which will magically make things right. A series of measures need to be taken, which in combination will make a significant difference.

Starting with the greatest bang for buck is a simple way of getting some big benefits. These ideas about what should be done are not in any special order, just two categories.

Short term (less than 5 years)

Stop inappropriate farming.

It’s time to stop pussy-footing around the rural lobby groups.

This one is the responsibility of state governments which have been handing out water licenses for a very long time. Those governments should immediately begin a voluntary buy-back of irrigation water licenses at fair market rates.

At the same time, irrigators and farmers growing rice and cotton should be bought out, without right of appeal, for a fair compensation, and their farms returned to native vegetation.

Alternatively, those farmers could convert to a crop that requires (say) 90% less irrigation. In that case they would have to give a legally enforceable undertaking, in perpetuity (perhaps through an encumbrance registered on the land title) that they will never indulge in high water consumption crops again. Some compensation may be needed for this option.

Buy and close Cubby Station.

The current Federal Government has so much money rolling in that they don’t know what to do with it all. They can fund the states for the compensation bills.

Educate, cajole, and price domestic water appropriately

Education about water consumption has been going on for at least 30 years. It clearly has not worked, judging by the number of people who still hose down driveways, and turn showers on flat out. That does not mean we should not stop, but we should use both carrot and stick.

This means that the price of urban domestic water needs to rise. By all means keep a small quota of cheap water (per year) – sufficient for people to maintain life and hygiene. Consumption beyond that can be considered a luxury and priced to create an economic disincentive to over-consumption.

At the same time, all houses with a spa should have a surtax imposed – perhaps higher council rates, or a state government levy. This removes the incentive to add water-guzzling spas. A similar surtax should be applied for all backyard swimming pools. In other words, those who wish to use water in an indulgent manner should pay an appropriate penalty for their indulgence.

Ban fountains

Public parks and gardens should have fountains turned off and drained. The sale of domestic fountains and water features in regions south of about Cairns should be illegal, with a penalty for sale of several thousand dollars.

Existing private fountains should be switched off, and drained. Government inspectors can enforce this with severe penalties for non-compliance. If that seems draconian, simply impose another surtax. Perhaps $500 per house per fountain per year. That will get them drained fairly quickly.

Subsidise the agricultural conversion to micro-jet and drip irrigation

Many irrigators grow using drip and micro-jet irrigation now, but too many still use overhead sprinklers. Governments should offer a subsidy program lasting 2 years, for which they pick up 50% to 80% of the cost price of materials for installation of drip or micro-jet irrigation systems.

At the end of the two years, those same Governments should then inspect and impose substantial penalties on growers who have refused to convert.

The largest impact is likely to be in Victoria and NSW – however this does not amount to state favouritism, because everybody benefits from more efficient water use.

Charge a more realistic price for industrial and agricultural water

Water for industrial use and Irrigation is charged at very low prices compared to domestic use. These prices need to rise, though parity would most likely lead to significant industrial disruption and uneconomic farmers. So rises need to be moderate, but scheduled to have well defined increments every 1 to 2 years, starting immediately, and running for a period of 10 to 20 years.

Long term (more than 5 years)

Improve the irrigation infrastructure

Recognising that irrigation will never be eliminated, we all must irrigate as efficiently as we can.
We must immediately start a program of conversion of the open irrigation ditches to lined & covered, or go into pipes. This will be expensive, with thousands of kilometres of irrigation ditches to convert. It will take a long time, but it will approximately halve the amount of water entering the irrigation systems for the same amount delivered.

Richard Pratt (the cardboard box king from Visy) made an offer several years ago to pay $200 million of his own money for exactly this purpose, provided the federal government matched his payment dollar for dollar. There has been no action because the federal government don’t want to play – for some bizarre reason. (SHAME ON YOU JOHN HOWARD).

Whilst the responsibility lies with the states, the issue crosses state borders and affects the entire eastern seaboard and south of Australia. It seems perfectly fair and reasonable that the national government aid in solving a national problem. And again, there is not a shortage of Federal money.

This infrastructure update is most likely very time consuming, so it should form part of a 20 year plan.

Freeze development of eastern states cities: future development in the wet north

Just like the title: no further expansion of existing eastern and southern cities. No more farming land and market gardens being chopped up for housing. No more growth of the outer endlessly sprawling suburbs. Land speculators don’t like that? Tough. Want compensation (for an intangible possible future gain)? Tough.

New cities should be built in the wet north where there is plenty of water. It’s also a perfect opportunity to build those new cities using the best possible practices for energy efficiency. Levels of thermal insulation can be mandated. Architecture and urban design can have huge freedom – provided houses are oriented correctly and meet energy consumption standards. It might be the opportunity to get rid of the no-eaves, no-shade urban abomination.


And I’m sure there is more. But these measures would be a damn good step in the right direction. The government that implemented them would never get another vote from the rural farmers and National Party voters, ever again, but they comprise less than 3% of the economy and have a voice far beyond their economic weight. So who cares? It’s time for hard action.

Drought, rain, water & pollies – part 4

Continuing from part 3.

7. Cheap nasty agricultural practices

Take a drive through the irrigation districts in Victoria and New south Wales.

You will find hundred of kilometres of open irrigation channels. These are not small channels – these are a gouge in the ground about 4 – 5 metres across and goodness knows how deep. These channels are not lined, and not covered. The losses through evaporation are huge. So are the seepage losses.

Not only is water seeping through the channels, it raises the water table which makes salinity problems worse.

These channels have been built by state government authorities to deliver water to the irrigators, and it is ultimately up to state governments to get off their backsides and do something.

By contrast, take a drive through the irrigation areas in South Australia. When I was a child, there were open irrigation channels everywhere. These days you won’t find one. Somebody here was bright enough to put pipes in, years ago. A lot of money has been spent in SA converting to best practice irrigation through the fruit growing areas. It needs to happen elsewhere as well.

Similarly, when in irrigation areas, look at the practices of the farmers. There is almost no overhead / sprinkler irrigation left in South Australia. Drip systems and micro-jet sprinklers are normal, and seem to be used in 80% to 90% of farms (pastures excepted – but there is not much of that in SA). By contrast in Victoria there is a vast amount of overhead sprinklers being used to water grape vines and fruit trees. This is immensely wasteful.


8. Inappropriate use / mixed messages

Why do we still build fountains? Why do we allow domestic sales of fountains and things that waste water? Why do we have different rules about waste for domestic and commercial users?

We can’t take conservation seriously until there is a consistent message, and a consistent set of rules, consistently applied.

Two simple examples:

Westfield staff hose down the footways and entrances to my local monster big Westfield shopping complex. Why is it OK for Westfield, but its not OK for me to hose down my driveway? (Not that I want to hose down my driveway, but consistency is lacking.)

My local council has a large new housing subdivision near where I live, and in this they have wide footpaths, and gardens, and trees and things. Most of these are natives, so they don’t need a lot of water. But they also have many large nice green lawns, and many kilometres of strip lawn between footpath and roadway. This is all on automatic sprinkler systems. At least these run at night. But why is it necessary to have a sprinkler with a throw of 3 metres to water a 1 metre wide strip of lawn. This usually results in 1 to 2 metres of road being watered. Last I knew, water does not make the road grow.

9. Ignorance

So many people have no idea about what they use, or how to do better. Just look at those using showers in the local public pools. Walk in, spin taps so water is going flat out. Adjust temperature. What’s wrong with turning it on a little, to get enough, but no more?

Similarly for office buildings with auto-flushing cisterns. They still exist, even in fairly modern buildings. These are usually on the men’s urinals – the sort that fill and flush, about every 5 to 10 minutes, whether there has been anybody there or not; all day – and all night. Building owners and managers either don’t know, or don’t care.

Many of these measures are simple and won’t do anything about drought, but they will cut the profligate waste in the cities. A lack of hypocrisy is a powerful position to have when trying to force change on others.


Coming soon: What we should do.

Drought, rain, water & pollies – part 3

Continuing from part 2.

5. Grace and favour

State governments are COMPLETELY to blame for handing out water permits to irrigators. This has been going on for many, many years. It was a great way to curry favour with the farm lobby groups: you want a water license? No worries mate! Pump away.

No consideration has been given to capacity – until maybe a few years ago.

NSW and Victoria are especially notable in this regard. Everybody down river suffers – and rivers don’t respect state borders.


6. Recycling water

The troglodytes in Toowoomba voted against recycling water. What a bunch of short-sighted NIMBY idiots. You may all end up wallowing in your own poo, rather than drinking it.

And to the local government people in Toowoomba who took this to a referendum: why did you do this? Why not just make a decision and do something? Instead you allowed emotional manipulation and blackmail to be used, and look at the silly result. Government is elected to govern. That includes hard decisions. Make them, and suffer the consequences. You are elected to do what’s right, not what’s popular.

In South Australia we have been using a large amount of water from the river Murray for many years. Guess where the effluent from all the river towns goes? Back in the river! We’ve been drinking recycled sewage for 30 years, and last time I looked there were not many people here with 2 heads and 3 arms.

Better use and recycling are sensible – but it will cost money. You need to treat the sewage to get it potable. We’ve been doing this in South Australia as well – for over 40 years, and we now recycle about 20% of the sewage. The rest is lovely and clean and we dump it out to sea, which is silly. But out 20% is a damn sight more than is done anywhere else.

And what is the recycled effluent used for? In South Australia – watering parks and gardens, and for market gardeners to grow the vegetables we eat.

7. Build cities where the water is

We have cities where the climate is nice (well, generally. Sydney in December does not really count as “nice”). We keep expanding them, and all these cities have small water catchment areas. We’ve been building over the fertile soils and market gardens, increasing the demand of these cities.

Yet to the north of Australia we have vast amounts of water. Something like 70% to 80% of the water that falls on the continent is in the far north, where it is not used for anything much.

Why do we continue to grow the large cities we all currently live in? Because that’s what we have always done. Not a very good reason, really.


Next part coming soon.

Drought, rain, water & pollies – part 2

Continuing from Part 1:


3. Consumption has grown

Not only do we have more people than 15 years ago, their use has gone up.

Just look from the air next time you fly on a commercial airliner over a major Australian city. Look at the number of backyard pools. There has been major growth in the use of backyard pools over the last 20 years. In the driest continent we allow these things to be dotted around, happily evaporating. They have to be filled from somewhere. The typical backyard pool loses half its water per year in evaporation.

Ditto for spas. How many new houses have a spa? These days it hard to sell a house wihtout a spa. These things are water gobblers, along with cottage gardens, and lawns.

The great populace have had their expectations raised, and expect and DEMAND that they can have a pool or spa, or both! And woe betide a politician who is brave enough to try and take them away.

4. Stupid agriculture

Why, in a dry country, do we grow rice? It might make sense to grow rice in the far north of Australia where the climate is more tropical and there is a lot more rain. But growing rice by IRRIGATION in NSW and Victoria is lunacy.

I used to support Australian farmers, and buy Australian rice. Not any more. I’ll try very hard to buy imported rice, and I urge everybody else to do the same. Growing rice in Australia is immoral.

Similarly, why do we grow cotton? The same arguments apply.

I’ll be even harsher about cotton. The pesticide sprays required are terrible things.

Australia should import cotton, which would deliver two benefits: we would not waste water growing it, and some other country can go and screw up their environment with the pesticides.

Cubby Station is criminal.

And another one: Why do we allow vast amounts of irrigated pasture in Victoria for milk cows? Once upon a time, before monster road tankers, each state had a local dairy industry. Now so much comes from Victoria that locals struggle to compete. The Victorians use oodles of irrigation water, the locals don’t. The irrigation water is way too cheap.


Next part coming soon.

Drought, rain, water & pollies – part 1

We’ve heard a lot from assorted politicians lately about water – this after a long break from the Alan Jones beat-up about turning the rivers inland.

Duncan has had a good rant, here.

Now it my turn.

I’ll start by getting a few FACTUAL rants out of the way before moving on to some solutions.

1. Politicians cannot make it rain.

To all of the idiots in the National Party, and in my case the state Liberal opposition who want more dams / reservoirs built: for goodness sake, shut up. You are being silly.

Any building program that started now would come to completion in 5 to 10 years. It might be a good thing to start planning now, but putting out press-releases about lack of building, on the day water restrictions are announced, is just a stupid cheap shot that achieves nothing productive.

For good solutions we need all political parties to stop taking shots at each other and work cooperatively. What a nice change that would be.


2. Privatisation is not going to help

By all likelihood, privatisation is part of how we got into the mess in the first place. The time lines vary a bit from state to state, but roughly speaking, about 15 years ago, state governments were strapped for cash. They stopped spending on major capital works. This was about when the next lot of water infrastructure should have started being built.

About 10 years ago, many state governments (and notably ours here in south Australia) started flogging off the management of the water infrastructure, with the continual mantra “the private sector can do it better”.

(Just how the private sector can run a public asset better is a bit of mystery: Government borrowings cost less than private, government departments don’t have to make a profit… but that’s a discussion for another day).

Anyhow, the private operators are hardly going to keep on the payroll the folks who do the trend monitoring and long term capacity planning. These are the folks who figure out that in 20 years we will need another dam, then figure out where it could be, start the feasibility processes, and eventually get the construction going. That all takes years – 5 to 15 years.

So, we have private operators who’ve sacked the long term planners, no long term planning in government, and about 10 years or so down the track we are starting to get in the poo.

Anybody surprised?


Next part coming soon.

Afternoon walk at the in-laws

We went for a walk on the part of the property that Wilma the Walrus’s Mum has retained – after selling some off to allow her to retire. But she still owns some stunning countryside in the Adelaide Hills.

We’ve been walking about and photographing naive orchids there for years. No cows now to keep the grass and small trees under control, so nature is gradually taking over again.

I’ve no idea what the proper names for most of these things are, I just take da pictures, mainly of stuff that I think looks good…

Anyhow, here’s a few selected highlights from the happy snaps of today’s walk:

Heading around the hillside (one of many):

Saw this thing on the way… yellow flower thingy:

These “fly catchers” seem to be a native, they sit very flat to the ground and are about 2cm diameter:

Bit more of the scenery. Lots of stringy-barks in this area:

Bumped into this fella on one of the tracks the kangaroos leave:

And, found a few of the elusive native orchids. Not many around, probably because it has been an extremely dry winter – rainfall about 1/4 of normal:


Just a bit of lichen stuff growing on a dead tree, but the colours and shape are interesting:

And a thumping great ant mound:

And a final view back over some of the paddocks as we headed for home. #1 son (age 12) took this photo, and he’s very proud of it.

Waste, waste, waste

So much waste around us. So many examples of unthinking silliness.

Here are two:

  • Why do phone bills come on A4 pages? Usually 2 or 3 pages long. Once upon a time a phone bill was the size of 1/3 of an A4 page. WE STILL HAD TO PAY IT!
  • Why do companies send out forms to be filled in and sent back, on nice heavy paper. It’s only a form. You fill it out, send it back, somebody types all that guff into a computer and then the paper is tossed out.

How to save the planets paper:

  • Use the lightest grade of paper you can for routine bulls**t forms. The difference between 70 gsm and 80 gsm paper will not even be noticed, but the lighter grade uses 12% less. Going to 60 gsm paper is a saving of 25%.
  • Use smaller paper. Why put invoices, bills, and so on, onto an A4 page when A5 (1/2 the size) will do? This should cut the paper bill by 50%.

Two simple measures. For anybody who adopts them, the saving in paper could be from 50% to about 75%. That’s less paper consumed, less landfill or recycling to worry about.


I *know* – A5 paper, and below standard 60 or 70 gsm paper are harder to get and therefore probably cost more. The price would come down if there was more demand… It’s a Catch-22.


The “gsm” rating of paper refers to grams per square metre. 80 gsm means that if you had exactly 1 square metre of that grade of paper, it would weigh 80 grams.


Looking through the weekend financial review…

The Breitling Cockpit Lady watch, with a diamond bezel, a mother of pearl dial and diamond hour markers on a lizard strap, yours for $9510.

A silk evening gown for $1584.

Chanel sunglasses featuring studded quilting on the arms, a mere $407.

And some hideous 50’s throwback chairs: $3989 and $4092.

The world is truly crazy for people to produce such stuff, and even crazier for others to buy it.

Truly, we are a society with too much money, and not enough brains.

South Australia Power

I was using Mr Google to try and find out how to totally and completely and utterly remove a Windows device driver (much harder than it seems).Instead, I found this by accident. All about electricity, generation, capacity, renewables, etc etc. enough reading to keep an engineer (or a greenie) going for an hour or two.

No idea who put this together but they have put in a heck of a lot of work. For better or worse, they seem to be a strong wind supporter.

Interesting: In Denmark, electricity costs 3 TIMES what it does (on average) in Australia. And, Australia has the second cheapest electricity in the world. Be grateful instead of whining about how expensive it is… things could be worse!


Gee, I have a neat idea, let’s try and use a bit less.

Try these:

. winding the summer a/c thermostat up a degree or two (try 25 degrees – its quite comfortable), and winter thermostat back (try 19 degrees and put more clothes on).

. If you have ducted refrigerative a/c, turn off the rooms you are not using, AND CLOSE THE WINDOWS! [Amazing how many nut cases open the windows with refrigerative a/c]

. Turn off lights when you leave a room

. Turn off your computer when you go home from work

. Turn off the office lights at work if you are last out (!!!)

. If you must have “friendly” outside lights on at home, change them to low power fluoro types and use the lowest wattage possible

. See if you really need that old beer fridge, they cost a lot to run

. Use heavy curtains, and close them on really hot days or cold nights [how many houses do you see with few curtains?]

And I’m sure I could think of a few more…

Biodiesel = BAD

We all thought biodiesel is a good thing, right?

Turns out… WRONG.

Biodiesel turns out to be extremely environmentally damaging.

It will only take you 5 minutes to read the article in the Guardian. Make sure you read it, then always question who is pushing what agenda when you hear a supposedly good-news story.

(With thanks to David for bringing this one to my attention.)

Excellent article – Life post-oil

Very good article in “The Adelaide Review” by Micahel Lardelli “Drastic action for a post-oil age”.

Will only take 5 minutes to read, but worth reading….

State of Fear – Take 2

Crichton & climate change are bound to be controversial.

So let’s toss aside the science, pseudo-science and simulations. It is time for an alternate point of view.

We should be careful with how we use oil & gas, because they are finite resources and once gone, it will be gone forever.

Oil & gas are useful for making all kinds of things – such as dyes, pharmaceuticals, polymers, plastics – to name only a few. Without oil & gas, these can still be made, but with much more difficulty and expense.

These precious natural resources are so easily wasted – through burning it to heat golf courses, driving big cars, or making throw-away plastic packaging. Every time we waste, we deprive a future generation from the high value benefits of those raw materials.

It could be argued that the things we throw away today will be the feedstock of the future. Maybe. With the amount of contamination in landfill sites, I doubt it. And once oil & gas are burned – there is nothing left to reclaim.

So, I’m not really interested in the Greenhouse effect – which seems at worst speculation, and at best an educated guess. There are too many variables, and too many assumptions.

The argument that wasteful use of natural resources robs future generations is clear and simple. It cannot be refuted.

We have a MORAL obligation to use natural resources wisely and carefully.

Of course, this carries no weight at all in a modern capitalist market economy – more on that any time.

State of Fear

The other day I finished reading “State of Fear” by Michael Crichton.

This is an unusual piece of fiction, because it comes with an extensive bibliography. Crichton spent about 3 years reading scientific papers about Global Warming and the Greenhouse Effect, before writing this book.

Throughout, you will find footnotes referencing scientific papers published in mainstream journals.

I started out reading this being a lukewarm doubter about global warming. Now I’m a definite unbeliever.

It seems like we have been hoodwinked by a bunch of people pushing their own agendas:

- researchers have an industry all to themselves – it is called getting the next research grant (if they came up with a conclusive answer to anything they would be out of a job)

- environmentalists – who need to have a cause to rally around, so if they cannot find something with a big impact, they take a small impact and exaggerate

- politicians – who need to have something for the population to fear, or who leap onto whatever bandwagon is passing in order to show how green, or mean or whatever, they are.

I know it is only one persons opinion, and the data can be quoted selectively. However, Crichton goes through selective quoting of data – he EXPOSES that little trick.

Almost every day we are told by our news media and politicians that global warming is proven beyond doubt. In fact, there is no conclusive evidence. For every part of the world showing a warming trend, there is another showing a cooling trend. Quote whichever data best suits your agenda.

Perhaps the 2 most important points are:

. All of the predictions of dire and catastrophic things happening in the next few hundred years are based on computer simulations. These are very sensitive to the assumptions on which they are based, and for all practical purposes can show anything you want them to show. Seeing as our weather forecasters have difficulty predicting localised weather patterns 10 days ahead, it seems to be stretching credibility to predict anything 100 years from now.

. And… Kyoto is a complete waste of space. All it will do is cause the western developed nations to spend vast amounts of money trying to reduce emissions whilst the developing countries can pollute all they like. One spends money and stifles its economy, reducing employment, the other messes in its own back yard but creates wealth and employment. Talk about shooting your own feet with both barrels.

In spite of this, I do not believe we should rush out and burn up all the oil, gas and coal in a mad frenzy of anti-greenhouse consumption. There are moral reasons for conserving, but more on that another time.

The end of oil

There have been predictions for many years about oil running out.

Oil is actually unlikely to run out for a very long time – there is a lot of oil in the planet still, it is just not economic to recover it.

The days of CHEAP oil though, are numbered.

Based on present recoveries, known reserves and current consumption, we are only a few years away from “Hubberts Peak” – the point of maximum production which cannot be surpassed. We might even be there now.

Technically, it is fairly complex, but basically the rate of consumption keeps going up, but its getting more difficult and expensive to recover what is left. This pushes the cost up which tends to cause consumption to decrease. But due to the difficulty of extraction and its associated cost, the trend is for the rate of extraction to drop.

You can find a good explanation here.

Current projections put Hubberts Peak occurring in about 2008, though recent news that the Saudi reserves have been overstated might actually bring that date back a bit.

There was also an interesting news article about how the manufacturers of large 4WD vehicles are offering up to $3000 in free petrol, as an incentive to try and move their stock of guzzlers.


1. Don’t expect any significant declines in the cost of oil or petroleum products. In fact the long term trend is for prices to keep rising. And rising. And rising.

2. If you bought a large 4WD Toorak Tractor / SUV / Hummer, you are really going to suffer. Your evil gas guzzling ways will cost you a packet.

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