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Save the Planet

By Bruce Barbour

I have developed a list of (mainly) practical initiatives which would be a good start in addressing our wasteful excess consumption of fossil fuel based energy and other resources. These ideas are listed below. You may have others.

A lot of initiatives are listed as compulsory. This is due to the factors listed above as well as:-

  • The urgency of the task need to be undertaken to achieve the outcomes necessary to save the planet and the lack of community recognition of the urgency; and

  • The market failure to provide overall socially beneficial outcomes. This is because the market usually only considers short term financial cost and benefit to the individual and the producer and not overall social benefit nor long term benefits. Some of these suggestions will cost additional money, at least in the short term.

There are precedents for Government mandating of social beneficial systems. For example the dual flush toilet cisterns (in Melbourne). (How big an impact would have this had if it had been left to the market?) Regulation for insulation in new homes. Some of the following suggestions are just an extension of the principles that underlie these schemes.

These suggestions are not costed, nor has any other economic analysis been performed on them by me. They are put forward in the hope that someone who has more knowledge and access to information sources and finance than me can investigate further.

Anyway here is my list:-

  1. Compulsory solar water heating in new housing and for replacement systems (except where it is impractical - in which case (instantaneous) gas will be used were practical and possible). Traditional water heaters banned within three years (except Tasmania while they still have clean hydro electricity - although if a better use could be made of this electricity then they should also use solar hot water systems - see below). The three year change period will give the water heater industry the chance to adjust their manufacturing plant so that they can manufacture solar water heaters. The greater volume and competition for solar water heater supply will mean that the cost will dramatically fall from the present high price. Solar boosting must be green power electricity or natural gas. Green Power electricity (or the purchase of sufficient RECs for carbon offset) gives the least green house gases.

    Continue the present subsidies for all newly installed solar hot water systems and increase and improve as necessary.

    By the way if you install a new solar hot water system if you can afford it please don't sell your RECs (Renewable Energy Certificates). This will force companies to buy further credits elsewhere thus encouraging the growth of the industry. This will become especially important under a capped carbon trading scheme.

    Solar water heaters would have to meet certain prescribed energy efficiencies.

    (This would be one of the most significant changes to address or green house gas problem.)

  2. The costs fossil fuel generated energy may (and should) increase under the influence of the other suggestions in this list. I would like to see the immediate doubling of energy costs from fossil sources followed by progressive incremental cost increases in subsequent years to reflect long term scarcity and the currently "hidden" cost of environmental damage and effects on health and quality of life.

    Decrease annual fixed charges for water and sewerage for similar reasons to above. Charges should be based likely demand and also frontage or area of land being supplied. (I would stop water rating on land value or improved value or this would be only one factor in evaluating a suitable rate to be charged. A property tax, if necessary, should be separate to supply rating.)

  3. Compulsory low flow shower heads in new housing. Change over in all existing housing within 5 years. (Government could pay for or subsidise the supply and fitting of the new shower heads especially for low income earners).

  4. Use of river compensatory flows for the generation of electricity. There are many (100s?) of reservoirs and weirs in Australia which contain water for use domestically or for irrigation (consider for example all the weirs down the Murray River). All these weirs allow a certain volume to pass down stream to keep the river flowing. Because it has been dammed back the water has potential energy (or head) that could be converted to electricity if directed through turbines. Think of all the clean energy that is presently being wasted. This energy is doubly important because it is distributed around the state so the generation is close to the place of use, therefore limiting transmission losses associated with the electricity coming from Gippsland.

    I would financially penalise all water authorities that allowed this waste of clean energy to continue to such an extent that they could no longer afford to allow it to occur.

  5. Power generating companies (and other generators of carbon using fossil fuels) forced to keep pollution / carbon emission levels at the present levels and then to reduce the levels in subsequent years. This will encourage investment in increasing the efficiency of the use of fossil fuels in the power generating industry and encourage the use of alternative energy sources such as the development of low head water turbine generators as mentioned above. If they fail then the large penalty payments extracted from the companies would go towards funding other environmentally worthwhile projects.

  6. Decrease electricity distribution losses. At present in Victoria (Australia) I understand that the transmission losses are quite high for the electricity generated in the Latrobe Valley from brown coal. This would represent one of the biggest energy consumers in the State. (One of the many advantages of most renewable energy systems is that they are decentalised. The power production can be in the same general area as where it is consumed, limiting distribution losses.)

  7. Introduction of carbon taxes / pollution charges on primary suppliers of product / energy that use fossil fuel reserves or degrade carbon storage (eg. permanent clearing of land). Carbon trading, if the appropriate model can be set up, say a cap and trade system, could also be an important tool as part of the solution - from what I can see it will be what the Government mainly relies on to meet greenhouse gas targets. It has the great advantage of enlisting the ingenuity of the private sector in coming up with economic solutions. However carbon trading seems to me to be diabolically complicated and as such may take a long time to set up and could fail to achieve desired outcomes. Government should not be putting all its eggs in this one basket. While in the process of setting up carbon trading systems, the Government should be ploughing ahead with other greenhouse gas mitigation strategies. In particular it should be investing directly in renewable energy production - this is going to be required anyway under a carbon trading system. Continually playing around with carbon trading scheme could be seen as a case of "fiddling while Rome burns".

    An easier and surer approach would be the introduction of carbon taxes (or environmental taxes - see item 8 below). The taxes could be phased in, commencing straight away. The effect would be surer than carbon trading - it is well known that if the price of anything rises then use will decrease - it also creates incentives to invest in energy efficiency and non carbon producing renewable energy sources. Carbon taxes, if introduced, would going to generate a large amount of additional income for Government. A portion of this should go to further greenhouse gas reduction schemes and also reductions in other company taxes (such as payroll tax) so that companies can remain competitive (and reductions in payroll tax will encourage employment). Another significant proportion should go to compensation for low income earners. The form of this should not be direct energy rebates but in the form of general tax cuts to low income earners and higher social security payments. So energy is still going to be more expensive, maintaining the price disincentive for use, however people if they so choose are going to have more money to pay for it. However they can also choose to be more energy efficient and have more money for other things.

    Either approach, carbon taxes or trading, are going to be a hard sell for Government - costs for energy will inevitably go up. This is unavoidable and is one of the mechanisms for decreasing energy use and carbon production.

    See also my Nonsense page.

  8. Unsustainable consumption is a large environmental problem. Production of goods uses energy and materials, both of which usually create pollution and environmental damage. Consumption must be decreased. One way to achieve this is changes to the taxation system, changing one of the main tax collection methods to sales taxes, taxing environmentally damaging goods and productions higher than other goods. A suggestions about how this might be achieved is contained in the attached article. This may be an alternative to carbon trading or simple carbon taxes - although it could in a limited form work in conjunction with carbon trading.

  9. Electricity distributors should be forced to accept excess electricity from grid interactive domestic solar panel, wind or micro hydro systems and to pay at the same rate, or preferably more, that they charge the owner for the supply of green electricity from the grid (if the power companies don't already).

    Also distributors forced to accept “alternate energy” from any private consortium that wishes to set up a clean energy producing plant. Such plants could be generating from the river compensatory flows, wind or solar plants. Payment rate to be reasonable and to take into account the transmission loss costs that would be otherwise incurred with fossil fuel electricity from Gippsland (set up regulatory overseer if necessary).

  10. Replace some of the coal that is being burnt in the Latrobe Valley with fuel produced by growing a crop. I am not suggesting that this could possibly replace all coal, however a significant if small contribution (say 5 to 10%) could be made. I am also not suggesting that this should be viewed as a long term solution but a short term stop gap for say 10 to 20 years.

    Some crops are very efficient collectors of solar energy. I suggest planting a specific plant for use in the Latrobe Valley generators. The plant would need to be selected for its energy harvesting and growth rate and also easy of production. Some form of tree or bamboo that could grow for say three to five year, "pruned" to the ground for the burning material, and would then regrow by itself. (Burning a crop does not add to the total carbon load on the environment as the carbon is cycled. However the sustainability of this approach is questionable due to soil degradation and also there is a certain amount of energy required to grow and process the crop which is why it is suggested as only a short term possibility while more sustainable solutions are brought on line.)

    Australia is lucky in that it has the land which may make this approach possible.

    Geosequestration of the carbon given off from coal electricity power stations has been suggested and is vigorously promoted by the coal industry - the so called "Clean Coal" solution. While I am not against this per sé, the problem thus far is that the technology has not been proven on a commercial basis as yet. Technically the process of separation of the carbon from the exhaust gases is complex. There is of course a very readily available method of carbon capture - this method or process is provided by trees and plants. While it may not be the exact same carbon atoms as produced from the coal burning this does not matter so long as the same amount of carbon as produced by the burning is removed from the environment. I wonder whether the possibility of massive planting and growing of trees, instead of the high tech solution, has even been considered (technical feasibility, cost benefit analysis and comparisons). For example it may be just as economic to plant say many forests of ironbark trees (the timber of which is heavier than water). When the trees are grown they could be harvested taken out to sea and sunk into deep ocean. In deep ocean there is little free oxygen or aerobic bacteria so breakdown of the wood would be limited, the carbon would be effectively locked up for centuries (this would need to be proven before large scale implementation). This has a further advantage in that the land where the trees were planted would be available for subsequent plantation and carbon capture, whereas if just kept as forest the additional carbon capture potential after the main growth of the trees has occurred is more limited (and is subject to loss from bushfire). Read More.

    Also consideration could be given to cycling in carbon in the forest - for example - why not just burn it in the electricity generating plant thus closing the carbon cycle.

    Regardless of this if the coal industry believe carbon capture is the way forward for their industry then the industry needs to get on and prove the technology and start to implement it. The industry (not Government) should invest whatever money is necessary. The time for talk is over - put up or shut up. (I personally believe that carbon capture, even if proven technically feasible on large scale, will so impact the cost of the electricity produced that renewable sources will be a better option (- this is why Government money would be better invested elsewhere.)

  11. Another suggestion along the lines similar to the above is to replace the Coal being burnt in the Latrobe Valley by using solar thermal production of super heated steam to run the existing turbines. Australian National University has built a number of "Big Dish" solar concentrators which may be appropriate. This approach would need to be evaluated. It may turn out to be better to build a new plant near, say, Mildura to take advantage of better solar conditions, or closer to Melbourne to cutback on transmission losses.

  12. Support the installation of wind farms, and other solar generators.

    The thermal tower suggested for Mildura is excellent innovative technology, and I can foresee the situation in the future where there are hundreds of these towers in out back Australia. Australia apparently has excellent "Hot Rock" resources which can be used for electricity generation. Investment need to be made in these innovative technologies. If this investment will not come from private sources the Government needs to be investing. What frustrates me about these exciting projects is that we hear about their potential but then there is nothing - often for years. This is not good enough. These technologies need to be brought on line as soon as possible.

  13. Shut down Alcoa Portland aluminium smelter. If this is not possible convert to natural gas. Conversion of as many heating applications (industrial, commercial or domestic) to natural gas would result in a significant green house gas saving, however this should only be viewed as a short term possibility as natural gas still creates green house gases and is not a renewable resource.

  14. Commence a program of conversion of municipal street lamps to high efficiency globes.

  15. The majority of Victoria's electricity comes from brown coal generators which are difficult to quickly turn up or down. Consequently Victoria has a lot of off peak electricity. Victoria also uses a lot of peak electricity which must be bought at high premiums from other sources. Load shifting of electricity consumption from peak times to off peak times would lower peak demand and may result in a low overall energy production. This could be achieved in a number of ways.

    One suggestion would be the encouragement of ice production air conditioning. I believe that there are some existing systems that operate on this principal. What this involves is the production of ice overnight using off peak electricity. The ice is then melted during the day to cool the building. This is a win for the building occupier in that they get their air conditioning at off peak rates (about a quarter of the on peak rate). Because of this I financial saving I believe that this would be fairly easy to sell to new building owners and possibly also for upgrade of existing systems.

    As an additional possible benefit a system could be put in place whereby the electricity producer in Latrobe Valley could control the air conditioner ice producing heat pumps. This would give them greater ability to stabilise energy demand on their system, with no detriment to the user. One or two buildings would not make a difference, however if the numbers got up into the hundreds this would be really significant. The electricity producers may be able to be convinced to offer good deals to achieve this. (Of course good building design would also lower and may eliminate the need for air conditioning, and should be pursued as a first option.)

    Another possibility is the development of an Ice Box refrigerator for general domestic use. This would allow the refrigerator to run directly off solar panels during the day, freezing liquid with a low freezing point (-20 degree C) to maintain the coldness of the refrigerator overnight and when there is no sun.

  16. Compulsory compact fluorescent lighting (CFL) or Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting in housing and commercial buildings. Limit / outlaw the use of high energy halogen lighting - replacement CFL and LED lamps are now available.

  17. Ban sale of items that are not necessary and use large quantities of energy. Items include things such as patio heaters (indeed any outdoor heater including those you see infront of cafes and restaurants encouraging outdoor eating on cold days) and garden floodlights. I am sure there are other equipment that would fall into this category.

  18. Make the manufacturer responsible for the complete life cycle of the goods they provide, including recycling at the end of the products life. Strengthen the Energy Star system of labelling the household goods for sale, including extending the system to include all electricity consuming goods. (Currently some of the new goods such as flat screen televisions that consume large amounts of electricity do not have to have star ratings. Smaller items such as electric fans should also be included in the system. This needs to be addressed.) Make the manufacturer list 10 year running costs on the Energy Star label. Minimum 10 year warranty.

  19. Some pieces of household equipment are very inefficient in their use of electricity. For example the technology for increasing the efficiency of the refrigerator is very well known. It is simply a matter of increasing insulation, using more efficient motors and compressors and some changes to the layout of the refrigerator compartments. As refrigerators are responsible for 9% of total energy used in the household (more if you consider only electrical energy), steps towards increasing efficiency needs to be encouraged. House design should also consider the placement of the refrigerator so that it can draw cooler air from outside the building to remove heat from the heat transfer element on the refrigerator. Alternatively the heat transfer element could be removed to outside the house.

    Other equipment, such as fans, can also be needlessly inefficient. There should be minimum allowable efficiencies for all electrical and other equipment - importation and manufacture should be banned for those that don't meet requirements.

  20. Introduce legislation to regulate and limit phantom loads from electrical goods. (Sometimes called Standby loads. Phantom loads are the electricity used by electrical equipment while in stand by mode or when the equipment appears to be completely off. Typical equipment that draw phantom loads are video recorders, televisions etc. Often this equipment have LED lights which are a indication of phantom loading, however even equipment that looks completely off can have phantom loads. Often equipment with transformers impose phantom loads.) These loads usually serve very little useful purpose. While these loads are usually relatively small, they are on continuously 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, and therefore their power usage can become significant. They can also be costly to the home user. One watt of continuously on phantom load will cost approximately $2.00 (AUS) per year to run in Victoria. The average American home has approximately 50 Watts of phantom loads - Australia would be similar. I calculated my "Phantom" was consuming 43 Watts, prior to cutting back.

    In the meantime, consumers should analyse their use of electrical goods that have Phantom loads and where ever possible turn these pieces of equipment off at the wall socket until they are needed for use.

  21. Compulsory heat sealing of houses. (Perhaps this could be considered as a project for the unemployed? Housing ventilation will need to be considered.)

  22. In housing, small is beautiful. Small houses take less energy and materials to build and less energy to run (heating, cooling etc.). Discourage the large double storey mansions that are springing up on the outskirts of our cities by rating, taxing and stamp duty regimes. Make it more difficult for these types of houses to achieve the mandatory energy rating.

  23. The housing envelope needs to be well insulated. This includes walls and windows, the floor and ceiling.

    Windows loose (or gain) a huge amount of heat and adversely affect the overall insulation of the house. Windows are generally the weak link in the insulation of housing and if this is not addressed further insulation of the rest of the housing envelope may not be very effective in reducing the heat lost from a house. Depending on sizing and the amount of insulation in the rest of the house, 50% of heat from a house can be lost through the windows (or gained during summer). When building the house double glazing is the minimum glazing requirement for at least the heated zone of a house. (The economics of retro-fitting into an existing house may mean that it is better to do other things (such as improving window curtaining) rather than retro-fitting double glazing.) 

  24. The increase in the installation of air conditioning systems, both domestic and commercial, is a problem for the state's electrical power system and for long term sustainability. It is not uncommon now on very hot days for the electricity suppliers (at least in Victoria, Australia) to have to "shed load", that is turn off parts of the grid as peak demand for electricity exceeds our supply. The main reason for this increased peak demand is the increased use of air conditioning. This peak loading is particularly bad as it can mean that a large amount of infrastructure costing 100s of millions of dollars can be needed to supply this demand that may only occur a handful of times during the year. There are a number of ways of counteracting this. Firstly if buildings are built along sustainable lines then they will have less, and hopefully no, need for air conditioning. Secondly variable charging for electricity by the use of "smart meters" will mean that the cost of electricity at times of peak demand could increase very significantly, say by a factor of ten. This would be an incentive for people to cut electricity usage, possibly air conditioning, during this period. The third approach would be to require that if anyone puts in a new air conditioning system then they would also be required to install a photovoltaic system of at least the same capacity, but preferably 1.5 to 2 times, the usage of the air conditioning system. The standard (or even increased) rebates could be available for this system. This would increase the cost of air conditioning to the individual however it would ensure that millions of dollar would not be required to be spent by suppliers to meet this peak demand. (Perhaps some of the rebate could be met by suppliers.) Over time, say ten years, this could also be required for all existing air conditioning systems. (If variable charging (the second option listed above) is introduced this would be an large incentive to install photovoltaics on buildings with air conditioning.)

  25. At present the majority of new subdivisions put covenants on the construction type that they allow on the new blocks limiting the construction to brick or brick veneer. This construction has high embodied energy - with brick being manufactured by firing clay at a high temperature. These types of covenants should be banned - allowing lower energy construction methods to be used - timber, (insulated) mud brick or even cement board or strawbale. Also some subdivisions have minimum house size restrictions on the blocks (eg. minimum house size of 190sqm) - again this should be banned - small is beautiful and always more energy efficient (given the same construction techniques).

    Instead of these types of covenants, covenants which assist in the environmental sustainability of housing should be encouraged or mandated. The types of covenants I am thinking of are those which would maintain the solar access of the neighbouring houses, making the construction of energy efficient housing more possible. So the covenant might restrict the height and possibly the placement of buildings and trees.

    Also the advice on subdivisions is that they should be designed to allow the blocks to have maximum solar access, which is usually taken to mean facing North. However even with the best subdivision design only 50% of blocks are going to be able to be North facing to guarantee solar access. However with the judicious use of covenants on building and tree locations and heights and block sizing even the blocks which face south will be able to be guaranteed solar access to the rear of the house. Blocks which face East or West should be able to get solar access to one side of the house if they have an appropriate width and the neighbouring property has appropriate height covenants. Where the blocks do face North they need to have sufficient width to allow enough solar access. (Read more.)

  26. Ban wood heaters from urban areas. Wood heaters in cities and towns are a blight on the neighbouring properties and the traditional heater types are not very environmentally friendly. (On large country properties with their own fire wood supply and where the only person that can be effected by the smoke is the wood heater owner then wood heaters may have more justification.)

  27. Travelling to your place of work can result in a large environmental cost, especially if you travel by car. It also can eat up a lot of time. It is much better to live close to your place of work so you can walk or ride a bicycle. However, given that these days people keep jobs for a lot shorter time if you own a house there a number barriers to moving, principally the cost and hassle of sale and repurchase is restrictive, especially if the job is not seen as very long term. Renting closer to the job is a better option however there is a financial penalty. For example, if you rent your house out for $300 pw and rent a house close to work for $300 pw you are still financially worse off because you pay tax at your marginal rate on the $300 pw rent you are receiving. To remove this financial penalty and encourage the movement closer to work (say within easy walking or riding distance of 2 km) I suggest the rent you pay be made tax deductible up to the value of the rent you are receiving on the house you rent out. Effectively you will be able to swap house with little financial penalty. I would also make the removalist costs for such a move tax deductible. 

  28. Encourage more "telecommuting", that is working from home, using the Internet and telephone for communications. (This has been talked of for decades but never seems to take off except for some niche industries.)

  29. If required, houses should use reverse cycle air conditioning for heating and be run using "Green Power". This is the lowest emission option. Alternatively gas heating could be used - however this still produces carbon dioxide. Any heater must be high efficiency. Gas heaters should draw oxygen for burning from outside of house and also extract heat from the exhaust fumes. Solar hot water boosting is similar.

  30. In Victoria Australia, where the majority of grid connected power comes from electricity generated from the burning of brown coal in the Latrobe Valley. Victorian fossil fuel generated electricity produces 1.3 kg of CO2 per kWh consumed by customers, natural gas produces 0.21 kg of CO2 per kWh (0.06 kg per MJ). The fossil fuel produced electricity consumed in the home produces 6 times as much CO2 as natural gas. However if you are using electricity, supply from renewable sources which are clean and sustainable (wind, solar or hydro) or Green Electricity is the preferable source as it generates no or little greenhouse gases.

  31. New housing must have high energy efficiency. This level should be slowly increased over time. This will mean compulsory insulation of housing and commercial properties double glazing, compulsory slab edge insulation and correct solar orientation and design. See energy efficient housing design principles. Free advice to existing home owners on energy saving options (advertising and letterbox drop). Consider tax incentives for implementation of energy saving options.

    The star rating system should also include built-in and major energy consuming devices in the house, such as lighting, space and water heating and air conditioning - perhaps as a secondary rating as these items can be changed a number of times over the life of a house. So you could have a 6 star house shell, incorporating insulation, orientation thermal mass etc. and a 4 star for incorporated appliances installed at time of rating.

    I suggest that in order to encourage home builders to go above the statutory minimum star rating that monetary bonuses / subsidies be paid to home builders that achieve a higher rating. I would suggest that this could be of the order of $250 to $500 per additional point one (0.1) of a star achieved over the statutory minimum. So say the statutory minimum is 6 stars, if the home builder/ owner achieves say 6.6 stars they would be paid a bonus of (6 x $500 =) $3000. 

    This type of bonus scheme would bring the subsidy for housing energy efficiency increases in line with the subsidies paid for other energy efficiency schemes such as solar hot water and photovoltaics. Read More...

  32. Prior to resale older housing must have an energy audit (star rating for both the building fabric and the installed equipment), and energy efficiency upgrades undertaken as necessary to reach a specified efficiency level. (This may require works such as insulation, heat sealing more efficient heaters etc.). I have heard of a proposal were the level of stamp duty paid on the sale of a house is directly related to the "Star" rating energy efficiency of the house. So a house that is rated at say 2 Stars is liable for a higher stamp duty compared to a 5 Star house. Consequently there is an incentive for the seller to do work to increase the energy efficiency of the house. If the original owner does not do this and the new owner pays the higher stamp duty on sale, they would have a period of say two years to do the energy efficiency upgrade themselves, have the house re-rated, and then be able to claim back some of the Stamp Duty. (Combine with the incentive scheme listed in the point above (30) and you will have the sellers and buyers positively falling over each other to increase the energy efficiency of their house.)

  33. In addition to the above two options, should implement compulsory ceiling insulation of existing residential properties (with subsidies if necessary) and also for commercial properties where these properties don't presently have ceiling insulation. Post construction installation of wall insulation is problematic. (Surprisingly, in 1999 only 42% of Australian residential buildings had ceiling insulation, and only 20% had both wall and ceiling insulation. - Source Australian Residential Building Sector Greenhouse Gas Emissions 1990 - 2000 - Report 1999.) (I note and welcome the recent (2009) Rudd scheme to subsidise the installation of ceiling insulation for those house that do not have ceiling insulation.)

  34. Los Angeles type mandating of a certain percentage of new cars to be very low polluters. Will encourage innovation and see the introduction of Hypercars (electric cars powered by a hydrogen / gas fuel cell), very small light weight micro cars and compressed air powered cars to Australia sooner (although the viability and efficiency of compressed air cars is questioned). Alternatively could mandate that manufacturers decrease the total pollution generating capacity of the new vehicles that they manufacture by say 2.5 to 5% per year for the next ten to fifteen years. They could then decide how this is achieved, either through better engine technology, Hypercars or decreasing the weight of the vehicle produced, or a combination of these. This regime should also apply to imported cars.

    Decreasing the weight of a car is a simple way of decreasing energy use. It takes a certain amount of energy to move a tonne of car along a road. If you halve the weight of the vehicle you may be able to decrease its energy consumption by up to a half. Consequently the tax regime on cars should encourage a trend to low weight cars.

    Another way to double the efficiency of the car is to double the number of people using the vehicle at any one time - through car pooling and other means.

  35. Encourage the use of bicycles for transport.

    Encourage the use of electric bicycles, as an alternative to cars. While they still use energy it is a fraction of that used by cars and can be zero emissions if green power is used. Currently there is a limit of 200W on the power of electric bicycles (in Victoria). Beyond that power level the bicycle is meant to be registered and the rider needs a bike license. This is a very low power level and insufficient for steeper hill climbs, which is where electrical assistance is most required. This decreases the attractiveness of the electric bicycle and is a dis-incentive to riding and displacing the car. The power level should be increased to a level that provides worthwhile assistance for hill climbs. An additional license to ride the electrical bicycle should not be required for people with car driver's license. Registration should not be required. If thought necessary for safety the electric assistance on the bicycle could be limited to speeds up to, say, 25 kmh. (The bicycle would still be able to go above 25 kmh but there would be no electrical assistance above this speed. Electrically assisted acceleration could also be limited, if necessary, as hill climbing is the requirement.)

  36. The fares payable on mass public transport in cities (trains, trams, bus) to be eliminated (or reduced significantly). This will encourage the use of public transport and therefore lessen the use of cars.

    This may not cost as much as first thought. There is currently a significant cost in collection and policing of fares. This cost would be eliminated. Could fund the remaining shortfall by a Medicare type levy or through the council rates and also a hotel bed charge to pick up overseas tourists. Reduction of the cost of public transport into the country could be implemented.

    If this is not possible employers should be encouraged to purchase public transport for their employees by removing fringe benefit tax on public transport tickets provided by the employer. I would also make the purchase of public transport tickets to and from work tax deductible for other employees.

    Of course the service levels of public transport would have to increase dramatically to handle the increased patronage.

  37. Extension of the road tolls system to all roads so that people are charged for travelling long distances in their cars. Residents could receive exemption from the tolls for gateways close to their home. Could decrease the fixed costs of owning a car such as compulsory third party and registration which would be paid for from the tolls.

    To limit people trying to avoid the toll by going along back streets the placement would have to be carefully considered (and blocking of some local through streets would have to be considered and schemes introduced which would restrict some roads to local traffic only). The cost of each toll could be low (how many people would go a long way out of their way and slow their trip considerably to avoid paying say 40 cents). The local resident exemption would mean that people close to their homes would not need to avoid the toll gates, because of the low tolls the placement of the gates could be fairly frequent (say every kilometre) again making avoidance not worth while. Because the toll gates will be every where there will be no reason why a driver would want to avoid a major tollway such as the new City link project (a ten kilometre trip on other roads may pass through ten gates and consequently cost nearly as much as a City Link trip).

    The extensive use of tolls will discourage the use of the roads for long trips and will be a boon for the local shopping centres and communities, public transport and the environment in general. Taxis along with other public transport and bicycles would be exempted. Could have higher tolls on access points to the city to encourage public transport use to areas which are well served by public transport or to use by-pass routes that are available.

    Road tolls could also be extended to main country highways such as the Hume and the Geelong Road.

    (Privacy issues may need to be resolved.)

    Alternatively simply increase the cost of petrol. This would be less effective than tolling. The reason for this is interesting. When a person purchases petrol they are buying mobility. Once this purchase has been made the driver does not necessarily consider the cost of petrol for each trip that they make. (As an analogy, when you purchase soap powder you are buying clean clothes, when you actually use the powder you do not think that this wash is costing me 30 cents in the powder used, I had better cut back.) However while this system may be less effective, but it is easier and less costly to implement. (The effectiveness has been shown recently (late 2008) when petrol prices soared above $1.50 per litre. As a consequence of this a lot more people moved onto public transport.)

  38. Introduce effective re-use of containers (in preference to recycling of the material in the container - see attached report on how this can be implemented. This system needs definitive analysis for Australian conditions, to guarantee that there are significant energy savings. Some reports I have read suggest that similar reuse systems do not save energy. I find this conclusion counter intuitive and the system needs full investigation.) If a system such as this is not possible for what ever reason a container deposit scheme should be introduced to ensure companies "close the loop".

  39. Introduce taxing regime on containers and packaging with differential rating for reusable containers (nil rate), recyclable containers and packaging, and non recyclable packaging. Tax rate would be based on weight and material type of packaging and how severe the environmental effects are for that type of material. Eg. plastic packaging would be taxed at a higher rate per kg than paper based products. Companies would be able to gain credit for using recycled materials and collecting material for recycling. This should be tax neutral to companies as other company tax rates may be able to be lowered thus encouraging the use of less packaging without damaging company profits for those who conform to the socially desired reduction in packaging. This would hopefully make the companies more responsible for the damaging impact on the environment of the packaging they use.

  40. At present most recyclers only recycle Code 1, 2 and 3 plastics. Unless this is addressed (some recyclers take the higher code plastics but may be exporting them) I can see no reason why the other plastics (Codes 4, 5, 6 and 7), should not be banned for packaging use or if they are used taxed so highly that they would not be economic. In the meantime, consumers should avoid the purchase of containers that are produced using plastics of code 4 and above (and limit purchases of all containers manufactured with other plastics as well. Use refillable containers or failing that containers manufactured from paper products.)

    Packaging manufacturers should be required to put a recycling code on all packaging material so consumers know whether it can be recycled or not. At present when I have packaging material from say a package of biscuits I do not know for certain whether this a cellophane or a plastic, and if it is a plastic which code it is, and whether it can be put into the recycling or rubbish stream. If I put it into the recycling stream and it is not then this effects the economics of recycling. If I put it in the rubbish stream and it is recyclable then this is a waste of material.

  41. Introduce a payment system to encourage the re-use of supermarket plastic bags. This would work by the supermarket taking (say) 5 cents off the bill of customers for each plastic shopping bag that the customer brings back to the store and re-uses, or replaces with a reusable string bag. (I realise that some supermarkets have a scheme whereby the supermarket will pay 5 cents to charity for each bag re-used. This is laudable however due to human nature I believe that it will have greater take up if the money is returned directly to the consumer. It is important to concentrate on the primary goal we are trying to achieve, which is the reduction in the amount of waste generated, and the best way to achieve this. The supermarkets should be encouraged to donate directly to charity.)

    The system that is slowly gaining recognition as the way to drastically reduce plastic bag use - charging 10c to 25c per plastic bag to encourage people to bring their own, will be excellent when finally introduced (so long as the money collected goes to charity).

  42. Encourage on site reuse of “grey water” and rain water roof run-off for garden watering, toilet flushing or rainwater for laundry uses. There should be compulsory rain water use systems installation on new houses. (Grey water reuse is a bit more problematic due to difficulty in storing it for long term with out some form of treatment to stop disease development.) Remove all regulatory bans on the reuse of the water (except where health/amenity may be impacted).

  43. Mandate composting in houses. It is easy to do when educated how. When I started to compost it had flow on effects. Because my rubbish generated was a lot “cleaner” than before (no putrescing vegetable waste) I no longer had to use a plastic supermarket shopping bag as a bin liner. It also became apparent how much of the non recyclable material was plastic bags and packaging, with an amount of food damaged paper packaging. This prompted me to start looking closely at the goods I was buying in the supermarket, to cut down on in particular plastic packaging.

  44. Cut down on garbage collections, either frequency of collection or the size of bin used for collection. Introduce differential council garbage collection charges for the households that use the smaller bins. Could charge for each time the bin is collected, by the use electronic registration of which bins are collected, to encourage bi-weekly or longer collections. (For the lesser frequency of collection the resident would need to be committed to composting so there is less organic material in the household waste stream.)

    Similarly for recyclable, there is no need for these to be collected more than fortnightly, and the lesser frequency will cut down on truck mileage for pick up.

  45. Complete the Piping of the Wimmera Mallee “Domestic and Stock” water supply system. Upgrade the infrastructure on the rest of the irrigation systems in the State, to minimise evaporation wastage.

  46. Encourage community co-operatives for tool sharing and food production.

  47. Look at the embedded energy content for materials especially building materials. Encourage the use of materials with low embedded energy (or the use of less material). Preferably try to move new housing away from brick veneer housing construction to a less energy intensive building material. (The embodied energy of a new residential building can equal as much as 20 years of operational energy use within the house. - Source Australian Residential Building Sector Greenhouse Gas Emissions 1990 - 2000 - Report 1999.)

  48. Ban logging in old growth forests. The ecological diversity in these untouched wildness areas need to be valued for more than the value of the timber.

    By the same token it may not be necessary to completely ban hardwood timber harvesting in the state's forests. Hardwood timber is a valuable natural material. If extracted properly it can be a sustainable resource. Hardwood has properties that make it better than plantation softwoods in some applications. For example in timber flooring softwood tends to be too soft and would mark in use (although I note that there is now a bamboo flooring product, which could be a viable substitute for hardwood flooring). So in all applications where plantation softwoods can be used they should be used, with hardwoods only being used where their unique properties are of benefit. There are less issues with the use of timber in a situation where the timber potentially could last for fifty or even a hundred years, such a polished timber flooring or high quality furniture. By comparison where the wood is used for paper production, say for wrappers for takeaway food, it could have a useful life of less than thirty seconds. This is not sustainable. (I note that there are hardwood plantations so these should be used where available to source wood for timber or chipping.)

    Logging of natural forests where the main aim is the recovery of timber for wood chipping should be banned, with saw cut timber being the main aim of the timber industry, with wood chip a by product to be minimised. In recent years in Tasmania I understand that saw cut timber represented only 4% of the timber product produced (source: Bob Brown "Memo for a Saner World") so with the banning of low value wood chipping it would be quite feasible to cut the logging volumes in that state by 90%.

    Recovery of hardwood, even in regrowth forests, should be done in a manner that limits damage to the forest and allows speedy regeneration. Clear felling, burning and mono species replanting in native forests, current industry practices, are totally unacceptable. I would see a system that removes say a maximum of 10% of trees from any forest area and limit damage to under growth. (Select trees could be cut and then recovered using cable and winches, minimising roads.) The area would then be allowed to recover for say 25 to 50 years before any further harvesting could occur.

    The timber industry should move to plantation wood sources as soon as possible (so long as these plantations are on disused or degraded agricultural lands).

  49. Do the "Little Things".

  50. As a species we need to reduce our numbers. The population is too high for the planet to support on a sustainable basis into the future. Each additional person consumes more resources and currently produces more carbon into the atmosphere. While people living in the West impose a much higher load on the planet than the people of the less developed sections of the world decreases need to occurs everywhere. In the West because we do consume more and in the under developed sections because they often aspire to a Western lifestyle. The only reasons that our planet can support so many people at the present is that a large section of people do live in poverty and we have used fossil fuels to increase agricultural production. Fossil fuels are bad for the environment and also could run out in the future. If fossil fuels begin to run out and vastly increase in cost, this is going to greatly impact on our ability to produce food at the rate that we currently do and the price of food may skyrocket. Mass hunger and worse will be the result. If cutting our carbon output is hard then decreasing population will be just as hard and will probably take longer so we need to start planning and educating now.
  51. At present most people do not see the connection between turning on a light switch or driving their petrol engine motor car and environmental damage. They certainly would not see the need for a lot of the suggested innovations listed above. Consequently environmental education is vitally important to gain public acceptance of the need to change. This should take the form of education in schools and also advertisements on television, newspaper and radio. Use of documentaries on television should also occur, although this can be a case of preaching to the converted.

  52. Now for something completely different. I suggest that the Newport power station (in Melbourne Victoria) be made into a Energy Education centre. It is in a good location and it already has the attraction of the existing gas fired generator. The display education side of the centre could be run by Scienceworks, which is near by. I suggest the establishment of a number of sustainable energy demonstration plants at the site. For example Australian National University has developed a "Big Dish" solar collector which concentrates the sun and produces steam which can be used to run steam turbines. I would see the establishment of an array of these dishes, say 4, at Newport which would run a small steam turbine producing electricity (up to 400 kw - unfortunately from what I know this would be insufficient to drive the existing Newport Turbines). The ANU dishes are apparently quite spectacular when running (the safety for viewing would need to be confirmed). Other displays could be the Solar Systems Concentrator dish which converts the suns rays directly to electricity. Could consider a co-generation system with the nearby leisure centre providing heat for their swimming pool. Displays explaining alternative fuels (hydrogen and fuel cells, biodiesel, alcohol). More conventional Solar technologies could be displayed as well (solar hot water, photovoltaic panels and perhaps wind).

    As an education centre it could play a vital role in educating people about or energy production, consumption and the problems we face. Should become a viable part of our education and tourist infrastructure.

Some of the suggestions above have social benefits of employment and being socially worthwhile as well as having environmental benefits.

All the community needs is the understanding from which will come the will to tackle this most significant issue of our time, global warming. If there is the will the resources necessary to carry out the required works and to make the necessary lifestyle changes will be made available. The cost may be significant but, I suggest, significantly less than the cost of doing nothing and accepting the consequences of global warming.

Now if you are interested you can read my thoughts on the things that perhaps lack logic in saving energy. Click Here.




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