Good Reading : July 2008
JULY 2008 ı goodreading 21 practical book Isle of the Dead ‘In 1841, prison storekeeper and part-time meteorologist Thomas Lempriere cut a rough mark into the vertical mudstone cliffs of Port Arthur’s convict prison (Tasmania). Thomas was interested in identifying any changes in the land height on the Isle of the Dead, the burial ground for about 1000 convicts. The mark, when compared to current sea levels and taking into account movement of the cliff face, shows that sea levels rose 16.7cm from 1841 to 2000.’ As the ice melts we are seeing rise in sea levels. As the book explains ‘the majority of the world’s mega-cities, such as New York, are in areas at risk. Bangkok, London and Mumbai are located in tidal estuaries’, and ‘more than 150 million people around the world live at elevations within a metre of high tide level’. A dim view ‘Charles Dickens remarks on the quality of London’s air in his 1852 novel, Bleak House. One hundred years later, matters had not improved. Early December 1952 saw smoke concentration reach more than 50 times normal levels. London’s ‘pea-souper’ smog persisted for days on end, reducing visibility to almost zero. Pedestrians couldn’t see their own feet. One man described how his white collar became almost black within 20 minutes. The cold, dark stinking air killed an estimated 4000 people. Within three months another 8000 would be dead. In the 1950s, Britain, Europe and northern America were regularly choked in haze. Microscopic particles called aerosol make up air pollution haze. Aerosol act like a mirror reflecting sunlight back to space. They can have a cooling effect. To add to this, aerosol act as condensation nuclei, helping create clouds. With all these extra droplets, the clouds are brighter, more reflective and may persist longer. Indeed, in some haze-shrouded regions of the northern hemisphere, surface temperatures, especially in summer, have actually fallen. Scientists coined a name for the drop in the amount of sunshine that was able to penetrate the atmosphere during the latter decades of the twentieth century – global dimming. The dimming, thought to be substantially caused by aerosol, actually counteracted some of the warming that would have otherwise happened thanks to the growing atmospheric greenhouse gases. Perversely, the laudable efforts of industrialised countries to reduce one environmental problem — air pollution — has accelerated another environmental problem — global warming. One of the reasons there has been an acceleration in temperature rise since about 1990 is that clearer skies allow more solar radiation to reach the surface. Global dimming has diminished. Now we have the opposite: global brightening. As well as moderating warming, aerosol may be having another impact – increasing rainfall. While much of Australia has dried over the past 50 years, the north-west bucks the trend. There, rainfall has been rising: by more than 50mm per decade in some places. CSIRO’s Dr Leon Rotstayn thinks that the huge brown pollution haze that hangs over much of Asia may be the cause. ‘The haze cools Asia and the surrounding oceans. This changes the temperature difference between Asia and Australia, affecting monsoonal winds and rainfall.’ Climate Change: What you can do about it, at work, at home, at school by Paul Holper and Simon Torok is published by Macmillan, rrp $29.95. Climate Change is printed on ENVI 100% Carbon Neutral paper. It began some two years ago when a small team of staff from Australian Paper’s Wesley Vale Mill in Tasmania decided to improve both the carbon footprint and reputation of their paper. Under the auspices of the Australian Government’s Greenhouse Challenge Program, they managed to reduce CO2 emissions by over 17 000 tonnes per annum and conceive the ENVI Carbon Neutral range of papers. The first of its kind in Australia, and as far as they know, on the planet! It’s a fitting example of what can be done ‘at work’ and something to contemplate as you read the book. electricity they use.’ Did you know that ‘a microwave oven with a clock uses more energy to run the clock non-stop over a course of the year than it does to heat food – so do you really need a microwave that tells the time?’ Or you might be shocked to know that a washing machine that isn’t turned off at the wall ‘draws more energy in a day than it does to do a load of washing, even without any visible stand-by lights.’ By washing clothes in cold water and making sure you wash with a full load can help you save 3kg of greenhouse gas emissions each wash. Heating water in your home contributes about 15 per cent of your emissions and it’s your shower that uses it most. For every two minutes less you spend in the shower you can save another kilogram of emissions. So as the authors say, ‘hop out before you go wrinkly’! There are lots of ways to make your footprint less. Do you really need to use a leaf blower, which ‘emits as much greenhouse gas in an hour as a car does in five’? Maybe you can walk to shops or do more than one errand in a single trip? Why not invest in companies that are more ‘green’? All of us should be informed about climate change. Reading this book is a good start and making even a couple of the changes to your habits as suggested will all add up to make a difference and help keep our world sustainable for the next generation. EMISSION STATEMENT Australians are each responsible for the equivalent of 26 tonnes of greenhouse emissions annually. More than 10 per cent of this comes from the meat we eat. BREATHE IN Due to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the air, on average every breath you take contains approximately 10 billion more carbon dioxide molecules than the previous breath.