Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

An evidence based tax to tackle global warming

July 7, 2013

CaptureA Canadian economist, Ross McKitrick has come up with a really simple idea for dealing with climate change that has the potential to unite scientists, politicians, environmentalists and dissenters and get global action in place to manage the risk of climate change.

The idea? Introduce an evidence based, tax neutral carbon tex.

McKendrick proposes using some indicator of global warming (he thinks the temperature of the troposphere is the best indicator) and to link the level of carbon tax to this indicator.

Put simply this would provide an incentive for everyone, from the biggest mining companies to the individual citizen to seek out the best evidence of likely tropospheric temperature rises and make their investment decisions on that basis. It would encourage everyone to put their money where their mouth was. Dissenters could happily invest in fossil fuels, those that put more faith in the scientists would be putting their money into renewables.

MCKitrick’s proposal’s brilliance lies in the fact that it harnesses the power of the market to deal effectively with climate change. He argues that this simple approach would allow the scrapping of all other regulatory approaches, and if that happened it would certainly be the most cost effective.

Getting a political consensus on an issue within a country. let alone across the globe is a major challenge but this idea has a better chance than most. A good start would be for us as a global community to get over the unproductive verbal mud slinging between true believers and dissenters and debate instead what would be the most effective indicator to base the tax on (sea level?, Arctic ice melt?, ocean temperature?) and at what level the tax should be.

I am reminded of the old adage for every problem there is a simple solution – and it is always wrong. In this case there is nonetheless the germ of a good idea that could be nuanced into something that would have universal support, and be effective. You can read the full article here.

Death by a thousand cuts

July 4, 2013

I reproduce here, with permission a letter from long time Mosman resident Damien Stapleton to Mayor Abelson on the topic of he Mosman Rider . It represents my views exactly. It appears that if a service is not useful to the present Council’s very well heeled backers then it is to be scrapped, no matter how vital it is the vulnerable young and elderly. Not immediately of course, given contractural obligations, so it has to be death by a thousand cuts. One can only surmise that the reason they rejected signing up to an attractive five year contract was they wanted to get rid of the service when the current contract expires in two years.

Mayor Abelson in his July occasional letter claims it was a controversial matter in the community with passionate supporters for and against. What he omitted to say was that the against side was made up of his and Cr Bendall’s supporters who loved to hate the previous Council. It appears that this Council is out to white ant and then knock over anything and everything the previous Council set up. What Mayor Abelson also failed to mention was that those in favour of he Rider were users of the service -either because they relied on it, or they shared the previous council’s view that substituting the Rider for a car trip was more fun, more social and good for the environment.

Serving Mosman, Mayor Abelson’s political party, campaigned on a platform of bringing in a new era of a Council that listened to the community. At least he now acknowledges that the community is not of one mind. Does he now accept I wonder that the previous Council did listen to the community , but not to those with the loudest voices, as he has opted to do. Will his thinking evolve to the point of recognising that given there is a diversity of views in the community, Council needs to be not just guided by opinion, but by values.

Here is Damien’s letter

It is most disappointing that Mosman Municipal Council has reduced its very successful initiative, The Mosman Rider community bus service, during winter months.

I regularly use the service and have signed the citizens’ petition presen tly before Council, which protests that reduction. Having not owned an automobile for 24 years and leading the extremely active life I do, I am totally reliant on and aware of the Public Transport options in this area including The Rider, as I pursue my many daily activities.

I have resided in Mosman for 41 years and we are greatly advantaged here by a very good Public Transport system which puts us in contact with linking train, ferry, bus and even air services, to all points of the compass. The Rider is now an integral part of the local Public Transport grid.

It is an invaluable asset to the area servicing many parts of the Municipality hitherto not serviced by any Public Transport eg providing transport for school students from Pearl and Quaker’s Hat Bays, transporting the less mobile to shopping, health care, and entertainment commitments and lessening cars on the road thus contributing to the environment. It is also a beneficial tourist attraction. The Rider service does not compete with, duplicate or militate against any Government Transport in the area. Government bus services are not threatened by the service.

The buses are air conditioned, clean and comfortable and drivers are extremely courteous and jovial and very cooperative and helpful, particularly to elderly passengers and those with young children. It is particularly convenient that passengers may hail the bus in spaces where it is legal to do so and are not limited to conventional bus stops.

The Mosman Rider was the quid pro quo resulting from the decision of Council some years ago to install Parking Meters at Balmoral Beach. It was to be and is funded from revenue from those meters and from infringements arising where

Parking provisions are not complied-with. It functions therefore at no cost to Mosman Ratepayers whose obligation to pay for parking vehicles does not exist, is minimal or results from poor time management. I am reliably informed that such revenue from this source now exceeds $2 million and the present Rider service costs $275,000 and that most of that revenue is derived from motorists who live outside Mosman.

The installation of the meters became necessary to control abuses of free-of-charge parking at the beach including inter alia: long- lunchers parking all afternoon and being too intoxicated to drive so leaving cars overnight for collection the next day, teachers and students from the local private girls’ school parking all day and yachties’ parking their trailer and car for days as they cruise the blue, hogging two parking spaces with no regard for the inconvenience they caused.

These abuses and their ilk had to be remedied and I must point out that one in particular of your fellow Councillors based his expensive presidential and humiliatingly unsuccessful 2012 campaign for control of Mosman Council, on Council’s Parking Meter initiative at Balmoral. It is interesting however that Council now seeks to massively increase revenue from meters at Balmoral Beach by increasing parking charges and expanding the meter culture to Spit Junction while installing a Parking Infringement Review Panel whose only function can be seen to be the overturn of parking fines with the effect of reducing the authority of Council Rangers and being left exposed to claims of cronyism where the infringements of mates are able to be overturned.

I supported and still do, the installation of Parking Meters at Balmoral and its resulting bus initiative and they are an inextricable package. I support any reasonable revenue-raising initiative of any public body including Local Government.

In its decision to reduce the Rider service, Mosman Council is in severe breach of its covenant with its citizens who have been grossly betrayed by Council in this matter. In other words the case is made that the service should in fact not be reduced but increased and Council would still have change.

Our adjoining Councils Willoughby and Manly, operate multiple free-of-charge bus services at Ratepayers’ cost.

Mosman is a wealthy small Council in the most affluent demographic in the Commonwealth of Australia. Its liabilities are minor in proportion to larger Councils with great social problems. To argue that because a service provided at no cost to its ratepayers does not bring a financial return; is a cost to them, is absolute nonsense and an insult to the community intelligence. Using such logic the argument is made that Council services which are totally Ratepayer-funded such as Balmoral Beach, our parks, public toilets, The Art Gallery, Senior’s Centre and Meals on Wheels to name but few, should all henceforth be closed,

The only deficiencies I see in the Rider service are those I suggest should be remedied as I suggest below.

Accordingly I call upon Council to immediately:

• reverse its decision to reduce the Mosman Rider service,
• increase the Mosman Rider service to a half-hourly service
• commencing from Balmoral Beach 0700-1800
• every day and
• embark on an advertising and promotional campaign to make the entire community aware of the service, how it affects their individual neighbourhoods, how best for them to use it, the benefits available to them and the community from using it.

Mackie Lane Community Garden Opens

February 26, 2012

Yesterday was the official opening of Mosman’s first community garden. The Mackie lane site was packed with people enjoying the gardens with their lush crops of vegetables and colourful companion plants. Since it was established just three months ago the garden has become a community social centre for the Hale Rd to Cowles Rd neigbourhood. Every Sunday afternoon, when work is done there is, in effect, a street party. So what is the big attraction? As I discovered chatting with people at the opening, it is much more than ‘it gives people without gardens an opportunity to grow stuff’. The big reward for participtaing is the sharing of knowledge and the impressive rate of progress with so many shoulders to the wheel. The garden has attracted ‘experts’ who have well established vegestable gardens in the own home, children with a passion for gardening, families keen to learn the art and lots of locals who are happy to pitch in with bed construction, compost management, planting, pest control, watering and harvesting to simply be part of such a fine neighbourly entreprise.

As Mayor Anne Connan said as she cut the chocolate cabbage to open the garden, the fact that the garden exists at all show just what is possible when individuals, council and community minded business enterprises are prepared to take the time to work through all the bureaucratic obstacles in order to achieve the vision rather than saying it is all just too hard. Ausgrid was initially unwilling to lease the land to a community group, but were prepared to lease it to council who could sub-lease it to the community group. Council then did what it could to help with in kind asssitance – fencing, connecting water and provding and transporting materials from Kimbriki. It is a great tribute to Mosman Community Gardeners who through several years and many a set back persisted with imagination and zeal to achieve their goal – pulling in along the way Bunnings, the Honeysuckle Nursery, Mosman Daily and Midas.

The ultimate aim of MCG is to have a community garden within walking distance of every home in Mosman. It is going need a lot more creative collaboration fo this to happen given that most of the public space in Mosman is crown land. Although Mosman and other councils have requested that the NSW Government soften its policy which currently forbids community gardens on crown land (and they are considering the request) a decison is not expected anytime soon, so in the meantime the only possible sites are council owned land or land made available by private owners (as the NPWS has done on Middle Head). It is to be hoped that seeing what an asset a well run community garden can be to the local neighbourhood, the kind of opposition that killed off the Rosherville proposal will not be so much in evidence in the future.

For Tom Sherlock’s photos of the opening, click here

The People’s Junction

February 17, 2012

Clifton Gardens, Balmoral, Beauty Point – these are all highly desirable addresses, but Spit Junction just doesn’t cut it, does it?. It is not just the name, it is the very ordinariness of the place. And yet as a location it has so much going for it…. [Photo: NSW State Records]

It is the highest point in Mosman and the point where the two principal ridges of Mosman intersect. It is a natural meeting of the ways and the community heart of Mosman with the Art Gallery, Library, the Swimming Pool, Council offices and Bridgepoint shopping centre all clustered around public space that extends from Myahgah Mews to Alan border Oval. Spit Junction also bookends one of the best preserved and most successful high end strip shopping streets in Sydney, running for over a km to Centenary Circle

It is also a key transport node with express buses to the city and the northern beaches and local buses to most parts of Mosman as well as Chatswood, St Leonards and Milson’s Point. It is also the starting point of the high frequency Metro bus service through the city to Sydenham.

It is good the Council has recognised that redevelopment of its own land holdings represents an opportunity to transform this iconic site into something really special, particularly if the development was done collaboratively with other property owners in the vicinity. Perhaps not quite on the same scale, but something akin to how Willoughby Council has transformed what 40 years ago was a very shabby Victoria Rd into the award winning development of the station precinct and Concourse that Chatswood is today. (more…)

Mosman’s Pedestrian Plan

February 9, 2012

This week Mosman’s Pedestrian and Mobility Access Plan (PAMP) goes on public exhibition. This is a very welcome development. Over the years much attention has been paid to meeting the needs of drivers but this is the first time Council has attempted to systematically address the needs of pedestrians in Mosman. The fact that Mosman consists of a number of ridges that fall way to foreshores mean that most pedestrian traffic will either be along the ridges (where the majority of ‘trip attractors’ are) or from ridge to theforeshore.

The PAMP rightly focuses on the three ridge routes with greatest pedestrian traffic – Spit Rd from Parriwi Junction to Spit Junction, Mosman Junction to Spit Junction and Cremorne Junction to Spit Junction. Investment in these routes will give the maximum return in terms of increased amenity. These routes are not only the easiest ways for most people to get to the shops and they also provide access to the majority of Mosman’s bus services.

The idea is to make these routes comfortable and connected. Comfort will be achieved by paying attention to flatness, width, shade and freedom from obstacles. Connectivity will be enhanced by providing continuity across side streets via raised thresholds or wide kerb ramps and generous build-outs and refuges. Sections of Chappel St in Melbourne are not unlike Military Rd and provide an example of what could be achieved. It will be quite a challenge as the space between the kerb and the property boundary is highly contested. But even if a straight path is impossible given the utility clutter, a meandering path of constant width (wide enough to accommodate passing prams or mobility scooters) should be achievable.

The PAMP has also identified a number of laneways around Spit Junction that could be developed to expand the very successful Myahgah Mews pedestrian zone into a fully interconnected network – useful input for the ‘Peoples Junction’ planning exercise. A similar network is proposed for Mosman Junction.

One thing the PAMP makes clear is that when the current contract comes to an end Mosman’s advertising supported bus shelters are going to need to be replaced by slimmer models moved back close to the property boundary. The advertising, instead of being on side panels visible to motorists will need to be restricted to the back panels. This is the norm for shelters just about everywhere in the world where footpath space is scarce.

You can download the PAMP and make a comment until March 30 here. Once the final version is adopted by Council the recommended works will be folded into MOSPLAN and undertaken at whatever rate funding allows. Most Mosman addresses have a good walkability score. Getting the ridge routes of a high pedestrian quality and then connecting these with the many pedestrian step paths down to the foreshores will enhance that score even further. A high walkability score is something that prospective home buyers are increasingly seeking.

I am taking a great interest in pedestrian facilities in other municipalities. Here you can view my photo gallery of crossing treatments, unobstructed footpaths and bus shelters. If you want to check out your own favourite route for walkability you can download a walkability checklist from the National Heart Foundation website.

And I am trying to find out just what powers councils have in terms of ‘development’ in the area between kerb and property boundary. I am particularly alarmed at the spread of green electricity stubs.

We Need to Change Tack

January 24, 2012

Sailing provides a great metaphor for the challenge of our age.

When you change tack there is no implication that the tack you were on was not the right choice at the time – it is just that that cliff is getting perilously close!

The industrial revolution, the rise of capitalism and a century of technological innovation have indeed delivered ‘the good life’ for many across the globe. We have gone forth and multiplied and we now have full dominion over the earth. As a society, we now need to change tack.

It is not that we should be abandoning the pursuit of well-being. We simply need to change our approach.

Specifically we now need to acknowledge ecological constraints. This means being a lot smarter in how we achieve our goals.

We don’t need to abandon capitalism. But we do need to address market failure.

Profitability has, up until now, simply been a matter of selling goods/services for more than it costs to supply them. The purchaser gets the item, the supplier makes a profit and they both go away happy. But the rest of us, and indeed the entire biosphere, are all impacted to a greater or lesser extent.

This is the well known Tragedy of the Commons phenomenon. Because they don’t have a dollar price tag, natural and social capital get pressed into service to generate profits. Putting it another way, profits which are regarded by the entrepreneur as the justifiable reward for innovation and enterprise, often incorporate a massive environmental and social subsidy – the cost that we all have to pay to repair the collateral damage caused by the product’s use.

The trouble is, we are now reaching the point where the cumulative damage has pushed the various feedback systems that keep our planet habitable close to, or beyond, their safe operating range.

So how should we respond? Up until now being a good citizen has involved abiding by then law of the land and acting in a morally responsible way in our encounters with others. In this new era we citizens all have an additional imperative.

We need to live Socrates ‘examined life’

In particular we need to inform ourselves of the full social and environmental impact of how we choose to live our lives and reflect on how that impact could be reduced

The information we need may be not much further than a Google search away. Making sense of what we find and grappling with the inevitable trade-offs is not so easy In fact the level of inter-connectedness of our social, political, economic and environmental systems makes it very hard to decide what is the right thing as complex interactions between systems can lead to counterintuitive outcomes. What might appear to be ‘bad’ now may well result in a ‘good’ long term outcome and vice versa. We have to get comfortable with this uncertainty and be prepared to continually review our position as new evidence becomes available. I suppose this is what Socrates meant by his famous ‘examined life’ concept

Imagine how different politics would be if we all lived examined lives. For a start there would be a consensus across all parties that reflected the zeitgeist of the nation – an agreement that our primary goal over the next century was to enhance what I would term our ecological productivity. In other words, to maintain our current level of well-being, while reducing and ultimately reversing, the rate of depletion of social and environmental capital.

The failing of today’s politics lies not with the politicians but with all those vested interests who are doing very well thankyou happily, making profits at the planet’s expense. They have seduced us into mindset of perpetual consumption and they have got us believing it can go on forever. What politician would dare to challenge such an entrenched mindset?.

So that leaves you and me to take on the mindset changing task. To be effective we need to not just live an examined life, but explain to others what we are doing and why we are doing it.

There is a great new website to help kick the process along called OnePersonCan.org. Here individuals can record what changes they have made to their lives as a result of their thinking and reading and conversations with others. Take the survey yourself now and spread the word to others!

I am hopeful that the day will come when a critical mass of Australians will have committed to becoming change agents and will be on OnePersonCan.

How different politics will be then. In response to demand from the electorate, the primary focus of parliament will be national ecological productivity enhancement. Sorting out which policy initiatives, which infrastructure builds, which regulatory frameworks, which education and skills development programs, what forms of global diplomacy and international aid can most quickly diminish planetary risks while maintaining our well-being.

How different business will look then. Companies that in order to make money need to harm human health, pollute the biosphere, waste resources, create social discord or negatively impact innocent bystanders or future generations will go to the wall – shunned by ethically sensitive consumers

If you would like to read further on any of these topics I would recommend the following books. They are all in Mosman or Stanton libraries

The God Species (2011) Mark Lynas (the planet’s ecological limits)
One Very Big Picture (2010) Syd Hickman (the use-by date of mindsets)
The Economics of Enough (2011) Diane Coyle (ecological productivity)
Leverage Points (1999) Donella Meadows (why mindset change is a pre-requisite)
The Biggest Wake-up Call in History (2010) Richard Slaughter (the process of global mindset change)
The Great Disruption (2011) Paul Gilding (how the future might pan out)
Natural Capitalism (1999) Paul Hawken (sustainable business)

NSW Planning Review

January 7, 2012

So far so good with the NSW Government’s review of the planning system. The current planning system was itself the result of a major review by an incoming government, It was introduced in 1979 and at the time was regarded as something close to world best practice. But community expectations have changed and the countless fixes that have been applied over the last 30 years, either to address perceived shortcomings or simply to railroad through the aspirations of the NSW government have resulted in a dog’s breakfast that doesn’t work for developers, doesn’t work for communities and doesn’t work for governments either at state or local level..

The review was one of the promises of the incoming coalition government. The two individuals conducting the review have impeccable credentials. Tim Moore, is a previous coalition government minister and senior commissioner for the Land and Environment Court and Ron Dyer is a previous ALP government minister. At first I was sceptical given the very short timeframe – the intention is to have a green paper of policy options published by the end of April this year and a white paper later on in 2012. My scepticism has turned into optimism now that I have read the issues paper. What has impressed me is that every issue raised in the extensive program of community forums conducted across the state in the last quarter of 2011 has been captured –in the form of 238 questions against which submissions are invited (by February 17)

Many of the issues raised are matters that have been of concern to residents and councillors alike in Mosman. I have been dismayed by the many serious shortcomings of the present system that up until now councils have been powerless to address. Needless to say Mosman Council will be making a comprehensive submission. Some of the issues up for discussion likely to be of interest to Mosman residents are as follows. (more…)

Open for Inspection

September 4, 2011

In early September Council has organised a bus tour taking in the homes of three Mosman families that are actively working on living more sustainably. One home is in Clifton Gardens, one is in Spofforth St and one is in Beauty Point (ours!).

Doing the research and then progressively implementing measures to reduce our environmental impact has been a stimulating and rewarding exercise with a side benefit of saving money. The easiest area for us to tackle was electricity use. Over time we have replaced our appliances one by one with more efficient models. We have done he same with the lighting. The biggest surprise has been just how much energy we were able to save by tackling standby power. Our household average power consumption per day is down to 8.2 KWh/day and there is still scope for further improvement. Having gas boosted solar hot water, no pool and no air conditioning helps. (more…)

Solar PV and Australia’s Renewable Energy Future

June 17, 2011

Australia’s electricity supply will be progressively decarbonised over the next several decades. Base load solar thermal and remote wind generation will be augmented by on-site solar PV. As a result, the economics of the supply industry will be radically changed. Fuel costs will tend to zero so the primary cost driver will be the percentage utilisation of the power generation and distribution plant – a major challenge given the non-continuity of solar or wind resources.

Australia’s roof tops represent a valuable resource in the transition to renewable fuels. The unsubsidised cost of solar PV will very soon have reached the point of grid parity (the diagram below explains this term – courtesy Mosman resident Chris Lee). Despite the fact that solar PV capital costs are higher than those of other forms of renewable energy, good returns are obtained since transmission costs and retailer profit margin are eliminated. The falling price trajectory of solar PV coupled with the rising prices of grid power will make solar PV an increasingly attractive investment.

Government subsidies have, up until now, resulted in small systems – typically 1.5 kW. Once the current feed-in tariffs end in 2016, there will be no obligation on retailers to pay anything for exported power. This makes installing larger systems unattractive as it is only substituted power that will then give a return. This obstacle to the growth of the solar PV sector needs be eliminated. It can be eliminated by legislation, ideally at the national level, that ensures that electricity retailers pay a fair price for power exported to the grid.

Solar PV systems on enough commercial, industrial and residential rooftops across the country could conceivably meet daytime demand, but only when the sun was shining. The fact that an area could swing from being self sufficient in power one day to being totally dependent on the grid the next is a major problem for the supply industry and the reason for their unwillingness to pay for exported power under present arrangements. Cutting back on the days of peak demand simply reduces the utilisation of the infrastructure, making it more expensive per kWh delivered.

In order to align the interests of solar PV investors and the electricity supply industry, a new approach is required and this must be underpinned by legislation, ideally at the national level. The new approach must greatly enhance the value to retailers of rooftop solar power exported to the grid. (more…)

BRT in Bogota

May 19, 2011

A station on the Bogota BRT

SHOROC’s comprehensive solution to our transport woes includes as one of its components a Bus Rapid Transit system which will run along the Spit Road Military Road corridor. So I was very interested to hear Professor Juan Pablo Bocarejo talk on the Bogota BRT, delivered recently as part of the City of Sydney’s City Conversation Program. I can recommend watching the video of the system. For Bogata, a city of 7 million, BRT was a much more attractive option than a metro in the sense that it has one tenth of the cost yet can move the same volume of people with the same average speed. The buses have their own right of way and stop at “stations” with raised platforms. The buses themselves have doors along the entire side so loading and unloading is very fast. The red BRT buses serve the trunk routes but free green buses circulate in the local neighbourhood of each station to feed passengers into the BRT. As well as using buses as feeders, citizens of Bogota are encouraged to walk and ride their bicycles to the stations. Extensive, free secure bicycle parking is provided at each station. (more…)