@bionerd23 rescuing rationality from the suits

Guest Post by Geoff Russell. Geoff recently released the popular book “Greenjacked! The derailing of environmental action on climate change“.

Bionerd23She looks a little like Noomi Rapace playing the legendary Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Not quite so tough, but not someone to mess with. Still, it takes more than a punk hair cut to make a real toughie. In one of her latest YouTube clips, she’s in a state of panic in the back of a minivan whimpering in fear and busily checking the doors and winding up windows. “Oh sh.t, it’s coming, I don’t want to die, it’s coming … f..k!” the voice quivers and the fear is palpable. “this sh.t is dangerous, he’s going to kill you.”

She’s in one of the scariest places on the planet. A place most people wouldn’t send their worst enemy to. But moments before she’s been wandering around like a kid in a candy store with an infectious sense of wonder, happiness and excitement.

The young woman is @bionerd23, a German geek YouTube flicking science student, and she’s at Chernobyl wandering around in the debris from the 1986 steam explosion which blew the top off one of the nuclear reactors and changed the course of history. Without it, more countries would have followed France and rolled out nuclear power and been generating electricity for 70 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour instead of the 850g that is typical in a non-nuclear country like Australia.

@bionerd23 has made a series of youtube clips in Chernobyl. Not your usual “me in front of the fountain” shots, but “Here’s me eating apples off abandoned trees 4km from the Chernobyl reactor” and “Here’s me finding a piece of the graphite core moderator spat out when the reactor exploded in 1986 … wow … look at my Geiger counter maxing out!.

So what’s frightening this radiation warrior?

A fox. This isn’t a red-riding-hood wolf, this is a fox. If you aren’t small and feathery or furry, then a fox is a cute creature with a big bushy tale and come hither eyes. “Wouldn’t you just love to pat me!”.

The facts are that @bionerd23 is behaving pretty bloody rationally because she’s far more brain than brawn … despite the haircut. Foxes carry rabies, Ukraine is a rabies hot spot and healthy foxes don’t normally approach in the middle of the day. If you aren’t vaccinated against rabies and you are bitten and infected, then you will die unless you can quickly get proper treatment … a post-bite vaccination plus some high tech supplemental treatment. Rabies kills about 50,000 people a year globally, which is more every year than the Chernobyl accident has killed in close to 3 decades. At a rough estimate, rabies has killed about 1.4 million more people over the period, but hasn’t changed the course of history.

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Human population size: speeding cars can’t stop quickly

Barry Brook:

I’m reblogging a post from @conservbytes (Corey Bradshaw) about a new paper we have out today on human population growth and environmental problems. There’s a lot of media coverage about it too!

BNC readers will be amused to know that it was based on a BNC blog I did on population and climate a few years ago. http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/09/19/population-no-cc-fix-p1

If you want a PDF copy of the full paper, let me know.

Originally posted on ConservationBytes.com:

Stop breeding cartoon-Steve Bell 1994Here at ConservationBytes.com, I write about pretty much anything that has anything remotely to do with biodiversity’s prospects. Whether it is something to do with ancient processes, community dynamics or the wider effects of human endeavour, anything is fair game. It’s a little strange then that despite cutting my teeth in population biology, I have never before tackled human demography. Well as of today, I have.

The press embargo has just lifted on our (Barry Brook and my) new paper in PNAS where we examine various future scenarios of the human population trajectory over the coming century. Why is this important? Simple – I’ve argued before that we could essentially stop all conservation research tomorrow and still know enough to deal with most biodiversity problems. If we could only get a handle on the socio-economic components of the threats, then we might be able to make some real…

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Short hiatus (gone south…)

Well, it’s come at last — I’m currently in the throes of my move (southwards retreat!) to Tasmania. Such is the upheaval involved in a large inter-state move (from the mainland to an island, no less!) that I will be unlikely to be in a position to post any new material on the BNC blog for a few weeks. But be assured, once I’m settled in my new deep-austral abode, I should once again be able to give due attention to this domain!

Destination: southern Tasmania!

In the meantime, a few interesting things to read, in case you’ve not already caught these:

  1. Think we’ll ever run out of nuclear fuel? Think again… http://www.journalogy.net/Publication/50514377/nuclear-fission-fuel-is-inexhaustible
  2. Prescription for the Planet book is now FREE (the whole book as one PDF): http://www.thesciencecouncil.com/pdfs/P4TP4U.pdf

  3. “Technical rationale for metal fuel in fast reactors” — read this to better understand why the IFR offers such outstanding benefits for sustainable energy. Despite the title, it’s actually quite readable (!), and lots of useful diagrams: http://www.kns.org/jknsfile/v39/JK0390161.pdf?PHPSESSID=2d3b18b9d415e3c564b40853e16fe3d7

  4. The Australian Academy of Technology Sciences & Engineering has released an action statement on nuclear power. There is also a WNN editorial that discusses it in some detail.

See you when I get to the other side of ‘The Ditch’!

Deep Space

Now for something different…

I’ve always been an avid astronomy hobbyist, ever since I spent my teen years at Siding Spring Observatory — Australia’s largest professional site for optical observations. My Dad worked (and we lived) onsite, as an electronics technician keeping the critical equipment running. As a consequence, I got to live on a mountain, in a national park, and be exposed to real science from an early age!

Anyway, I’ve recently had a chance to take up my amateur astronomy pursuits again, and this time to try my hand at some astrophotography. I own good-quality but relatively inexpensive equipment right now (most of my imaging to date has been done through an 80mm ED refractor and either a Sony NEX-3 DSLR camera or an Orion StarShoot G3 monochrome CCD). Apparently astrophotography is a bottomless money pit — there is always the next upgrade to look to! But one step at a time.

Anyway, here are a few of my recent images that I thought you might enjoy — or want to critique. They were taken in the relatively light-polluted skies of suburban Adelaide, but I’ll soon (in one month, in fact) be moving to a much darker site in southern Tasmania. Did I tell you all that I’ve taken a new job at the University of Tasmania?

Here is the selected gallery, with full capture details and higher-rez versions in the link to the Astrobin AP hosting website.

NGC 253, the ‘Silver Coin’ galaxy in Sculptor (http://www.astrobin.com/118924)

NGC253_ED80TCF_SSG3_Sept14

M42, the Orion Nebula (details here: http://www.astrobin.com/117345)

M42_ED80T_SSG3

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Germany’s ‘Energiewende’ as a model for Australian climate policy?

Guest Post by Graham Palmer. Graham recently published the book “Energy in Australia: Peak Oil, Solar Power, and Asia’s Economic Growth” (“Springer Briefs in Energy” series).


Germany’s Energiewende as a model for Australian climate policy? A critical review.

Graham Palmer, June 2014

The Energiewende is the world’s most audacious energy policy experiment and comprises Germany’s biggest infrastructure project since post-Second World War reconstruction. No other national energy policy has attracted such international interest, nor polarised opinions. Energiewende – literally translated as “energy turn” or “energy transition” – has two main elements – a withdrawal from nuclear power and an increase in the penetration of renewable energy via a feed-in tariff (FiT) system. The FiT scheme, originally introduced in 1991 and enshrined in the EEG Act, is based on the principle of protecting renewable investors with a guaranteed grid connection and revenue, with differing returns based on the type of renewable generator. In theory, this was also supposed to encourage innovation, although most of the benefits have come through volume manufacture driving prices down the cost curve, and the benefits of “learning by doing”.

But for Germany, this is about much more than their national energy policy. This is Germany’s Apollo space program. If it were to work, Germany would be the world leader in renewables integration with a potential multi-billion Euro export industry. But unlike the essentially technical challenge of putting man on the Moon, the Energiewende faces unprecedented challenges beyond merely the technical. A nation’s standard of living is underpin by the capital and labour productivity of its energy systems, along with a sufficiently high net-energy.

While the planned German nuclear exit following Fukushima was, at face value, an over-reaction given the lack of seismic and tsunami risk, German ambivalence towards nuclear has been building since the 1970s. The student protests of the late 1960s produced a fusion of anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism, and anti-nuclear, where nuclear power became aligned with distrust of capitalism and militarism. The “laughing sun” symbol appeared everywhere – Atomkraft? Nein Danke (Nuclear power? No thanks!) – and became recognizable as an expression of “polite dissent” as it became cool to be anti-nuclear [1].

This alignment was not altogether surprising – the legacy of the Holocaust and the Second World War, West Berlin as the focal point of the Cold War, with Germany hosting NATO Cruise and Pershing missiles along with American, British and French forces. These fears became entrenched through anti-nuclear activism by scientists such as Klaus Traube Traube, who was originally a proponent of nuclear power, but became one of the most prominent and influential critics [2]. And it was also the local “Citizens’ Initiatives” organised around local issues that formed the basis of the grassroots campaigns, such as opposition to the siting of a new nuclear power plant in the wine-growing village of Wyhl in 1975 [2].

Similarly, the Australian anti-nuclear movement grew out of the 1960s protest movement but had a unique Australian flavour [3]. This was the period of the Vietnam War, land rights for Aboriginal people, French nuclear testing at Mururoa atoll, the aftermath of Maralinga weapons tests, and the hero of the left, Gough Whitlam. This was also the period before the functional separation of state-sponsored weapons programs and commercial nuclear vendors – the choice of the British Steam Generating Heavy Water Reactor (SGHWR) for the proposed Jervis Bay nuclear power plant (NPP) in the late 1960s, together with the reluctance to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, suggested a strategy of retaining a future option for dual-use capability [4].

Upon winning government in 1972, Whitlam signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), banned nuclear power, and introduced universal higher education. Suddenly, it became de rigueur in academia and the political left to oppose nuclear power.  This earlier period defined Australian anti-nuclear canon, which remained as unchallenged doctrine for decades. Jim Green’s [5] introduction of the term “radiation racism” in the late 1990s, representing a drawing together of Green-left activism, uranium mining, Aboriginal land rights, weapons testing, and nuclear power, typifies this enduring but now archaic narrative.

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