Powers of Ten

A 1977 classic short on the relative scale of everything in the universe. HT: Quanta's Robbert Dijkgraaf, who linked the Charles and Ray Eames' film while discussing reductionism and emergence as the tools for solving the biggest mystery in physics tod...

Big dirty ships make "free" trade economically possible

Ever since the steam guys figured out that it was possible turn heat into motion, folks have been figuring out the thousands of applications for this possibility. Powering ships was one of the first uses of fire-driven power and it remains an important though small niche market (certainly in comparison to land-based transportation and electrical generation) for fuels. The niche has gotten considerably larger in recent years as traditional manufacturing nations off-shore their industrial base to places like China. All of this has been made possible by building very large ships burning the cheapest petroleum available. And they are astonishingly efficient—1/10 of a horsepower can move a ton of shipping through the water at commercially viable speeds.

Until now, no one has seemed to much care that these mega-ships are filthy when it comes to exhaust because for most of their water-borne lives they are out of sight of land. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter where air pollution originates, it is all being dumped into the same atmosphere. When it comes to building a fire-free world, big shipping will be one of the more difficult problems. Giving up mega-ships burning bunker oil will be extremely hard to do. And one of the problems is that impediments to trade like changing the economics of shipping will be viewed with horror by the serious acolytes of "free" trade.

Think diesel cars are dirty? Try ships!

There's massive public worry about diesel car emissions these days - but the really big polluters are plying our waters.

DW Harald Franzen, 29.08.2017

Steel-blue skies and a "balmy" 14 degrees celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit): As far as I can tell after eight days at sea, that's August at its finest in Cuxhaven, a port town just west of where the Elbe river meets the sea.

The strong tides set the pace in this part of the North Sea. If you want to get into port or out onto the open water, there's no point fighting the currents - especially if you're on a traditional sailing vessel such as ours.

Today we're heading out to measure particulate emissions from ships - and we don't have to go far. To look out at the horizon from Cuxhaven is to witness an endless caravan of ships traveling to and from Hamburg, Germany's largest port.

Many of them are maritime giants whose massive engines can be heard roaring in the distance, day and night.

"Look at that spike," says Sönke Diesener as the Ryvar, our 101-year old lugger, crosses the shipping lane behind a huge tanker. Diesener, who works on transportation policy issues at the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) is holding a metal wand over the gunwale of our vessel.

This is attached to a device that measures particulate matter in the air. Within seconds, the figure on his display shoots from 800 particles per cubic centimeter to over 50,000. It finally tops out at 73,000.

"At a busy intersection of a major traffic artery in a big city, you might get around 16,000," Diesener says - with the reserved calm for which northern Germans are known. The figures speak for themselves.

Playing dirty

The real issue isn't that these ships consume a lot of fuel - which they do - it's that the fuel they burn is often dirty, as is the way it's burned.

"Even now, most ships burn highly toxic heavy fuel oil when they are out on the high seas," Diesener explains. Heavy fuel oil is essentially a residual product from fuel production. "You produce gasoline, you produce diesel - and what is left over is heavy fuel oil."

And it burns 100 times dirtier than marine diesel - and an incredible 3,500 times dirtier than regular car diesel, when it comes to sulfur dioxide he adds. Aside from plenty of carbon dioxide, the ships blow massive amounts of the gas into the air - and sulfur dioxide causes acid rain.

Ships also emit nitrogen oxides - the main culprit in the Dieselgate scandal still coursing through Germany. Nitrogen dioxides (also known as NOx) make soil more acidic, and over-fertilize lakes and coastal areas, destroying the balance in those ecosystems.

Last but not least, ships release large amounts of particulate matter and black carbon into the atmosphere - both of which are known to have both climate and health impacts.

Enjoy your cruise

But why should we care about ship emissions? After all, big ships spend much of their time out at sea and most of us don't.

Well for starters, there is climate change. A recent study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research ranked black carbon as the second-most-significant greenhouse gas emission after carbon dioxide.

Black carbon absorbs sunlight, heating the atmosphere. When this gets deposited on snow, in the Arctic, for example, this reduces the snow's whiteness, or albedo. The snow consequently reflects less of the sun's energy, which in turn contributes to global warming - an unpleasant feedback loop.

A fairly easy first step that would dramatically reduce ship emissions would be to stop burning heavy fuel oil altogether, and use diesel instead.

That would also make it possible to install diesel particulate filters (DPFs), which reduce particulate matter and black carbon emissions by up to 99.9 percent. Selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems, in turn, could eliminate 70 to 80 percent of NOx emissions. Both systems are already in use on several ferries and cruise ships.

Heavy fuel oil could still be used elsewhere. "The solids that are eventually left could be used in road construction or burned in a fossil fuel power plant," Diesener says.

What's more, such big polluters may be closer than you think.

In harbor cities, cruise ships often anchor in central locations - and leave their engines running while they are at port, because they are essentially huge floating hotels that have to keep the pool heated and the air-conditioning running.

A modern cruise ship requires about as much electricity as a city of 20,000 people - so it's not easy to just plug in an extension cord and turn off the engine - which is what we do on the Ryvar when at berth.

Hybrids, plugs and sails

It's not easy, but it is possible. After long negotiations, an international standard for onshore power supply (OPS) was finally established in 2012. One challenge was that different ships use varying voltages, depending on their age and country of origin.

Although progress is slow, a growing number of ports now offer OPS, and several ferry lines and cruise ship operators are either in the process of fitting their ships with the necessary connectors or are already using them.

For a greener ride between ports, there is also liquefied natural gas (LNG), which burns much cleaner than oil or diesel. Several ferries and even a container carrier already use this technology. Much like hybrid cars, they combine combustion and electric engines.

Scandlines, which operates ferry lines between Denmark, Germany and Sweden uses hybrid ships.

"This allows the ferry to adjust its fuel consumption to the workload - which results in a 15 percent reduction of CO2 emissions," says Anette Ustrup Svendsen, Head of Corporate Communications at Scandlines. "Our long-term goal is zero-emissions."

One fully-electric ferry in Norway has already achieved just that. The 80-meter catamaran has been operating in the country's largest fjord since 2014 and the electricity to charge its batteries comes from carbon-neutral hydropower. And while significantly smaller, there are even solar-powered ferry boats. Berlin's public transport system operates four of them.

Back on the Ryvar, Diesener is interrupted by a sudden loud call from the stern. The captain has started to turn the ship, and the massive boom of our main mast comes flying across over our heads.

Time to man our stations at the fore-mast and main-mast - and start pulling. Sometimes traveling on a zero-emissions ship requires a little effort. more

14/9/17: MarketWatch Op-Ed: U.S. Economy

My op-ed on the state of the U.S. Household Incomes is available on MarketWatch: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-myths-of-recovery-why-american-households-arent-better-off-2017-09-13.

Australian Politics 2017-09-14 15:37:00

In Praise of New Zealand

As we all know, New Zealanders hate Australians -- just as Canadians hate Americans and Scots hate the English.  Big brother is rarely popular.  But I forgive them.  They can't help it. So I am going to perhaps make them feel a little better.

For a small population, they have done remarkably well in business.  Take wines.  Australia has long had a lot of success in selling wines to the world.  The Poms buy twice as much Australian wine as French. So the idea that anybody could sell much wine to us is improbable. Yet the Kiwis have done it.  Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region is now a big seller in Australia.  The one I sometimes buy is under the "Giesen" label.

And New Zealand chocolate?  Not Belgian, not Swiss?  Yes.  For a long time Whittakers of NZ used to export small bars of milk chocolate filled with nuts to us.  Then they managed to get a big order from Australia's biggest supermarket:  Woolworths.  Now they have on offer everywhere a great range of all sorts of choolate.

And New Zealand cheese?  Australia has many dairies that make cheese but more or less forever New Zealand has been selling us a cheese called Epicure.  It was what you bought if you wanted a strong-tasting cheese.  Then a few years back they started selling us "Mainland" cheese in a number of varieties.

But here's the latest.  Australia is a big market for pre-sliced cheese.  And the odd thing is that sliced cheese is the only cheddar cheese that you can buy.  Presumably cheddar slices more easily.  The "national" Australian cheese is "Tasty".  From the look of the supermarket shelves "Tasty" is what 80% of Australians buy.  Lots of dairies make it.  It is basically a cheese that is made as sharp in taste as possible without becoming crumbly.  It is a compromise cheese and, true to their British heritage, Australians like to compromise.  It's less hassle than the alternative.

So when I was looking yesterday for a pack of sliced cheese I saw a newcomer there, a brand called "Hillview" that was cheaper than any other.  Being born frugal, I bought it.  When I got home I tried it and found it to be perfectly good so I wondered why it was so cheap.  So I studied the pack.  And there in small letters was, "Made in New Zealand". They have now invaded our big market for sliced cheese!  They will do well.

UPDATE: My trip to the supermarket this morning yielded a big surprise.  Hillview has really invaded the market. Today there was a big new display of Tasty cheese by them.  They have obviously stitched up a good deal with Woolworths and are here to stay.

Hidden Costs Are Driving Up Cost Of Living And House Prices
New economic modelling shows hidden costs are driving increases in cost of living, surging house prices and mortgage stress

Hidden costs and regulatory creep are driving up house prices and the cost of living according to a new report commissioned by Master Builders Australia.

“Surging house prices are stretching household budgets and placing more families under mortgage stress,” Denita Wawn, CEO of Master Builders Australia said today.

A new independent economic study by Cadence Economics and commissioned by Master Builders confirms that hidden land costs and red tape are major factors in rising house prices and increased cost of living.

“It means that new home buyers are actually paying more for land than they are spending on building their new home,” she said.

“The same constraints have prevented the supply of new homes keeping up with demand over the past decade,” Denita Wawn said.

“Previous analysis by Master Builders has shown that increased infrastructure investment outlined in the Federal Budget could result in an additional 93,000 new homes by 2021, which would go a long way to closing the gap with the Government’s estimated housing shortfall of 100,000 dwellings,” she said.

“Now this new report shows that removing regulatory constraints at the state and territory level will be essential to unlocking this new supply,” Denita Wawn said.

Importantly, the report highlights that these problems exist in all states and territories despite the different market conditions that prevail in each jurisdiction and the benefits to these communities if the recommendations are implemented. In particular, the report supports the Governments intentions to place conditions on housing related funding to the State/Territory Governments, and backs calls to set benchmarks in terms of additional housing supply – specifically for affordable housing. 

“Master Builders is calling for reforms to unlock the supply of more new homes. We want action to be taken now to preserve home ownership as a mainstay of Australian life,” Denita Wawn said.

Media release

CFMEU NSW faces fines of more than $2.4m for Barangaroo strikes

The national construction union faces unprecedented fines of more than $2.4 million for unlawful industrial action on Sydney's Barangaroo building site.

CFMEU NSW boss Brian Parker has been issued an individual fine of $45,400 and his colleague Robert Kera, who the court heard had described Australian Building and Construction Commission inspectors as "f---ing dogs", was handed a $41,250 penalty.

Mr Parker and Mr Kera are also among officials referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for possible criminal prosecution for allegedly giving false evidence. The judgement noted evidence that Mr Parker's failure to recollect was likely to be an unwillingness to be fully frank.

The union was also ordered to pay for prominent advertising in two Sydney major newspapers to make its members and the public aware of their actions and fines.

The union's national office was fined $1.32 million and its NSW branch $956,250. Fines for other individual officials ranged upwards of $3000.

The Federal Court has found the union officials coerced workers into unlawful strikes on July 24 and 25 in 2014 that saw about 1000 construction workers walk off the job at the $6 billion Barangaroo project.

During the height of the dispute, union officials were reported calling Lendlease employees "dogs", "lower than a paedophile grub" and latte-sipping "soft c---s".

Federal Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash said the lawless industrial strikes at one of the largest construction sites in the southern hemisphere involving 1,000 workers had demonstrated the militant union's disregard for the law. "Recidivist, militant CFMEU officials continue to believe the law does not apply to them," Senator Cash said.

"Enough is enough – Bill Shorten must immediately and unreservedly cut ties with what has become Australia's most notorious union."

In his judgement, Federal Court judge Geoffrey Flick said the CFMEU was a "recidivist" offender and had "long demonstrated by its conduct that it pays but little regard to compliance with the law and indeed has repeatedly sought to place itself above the law". "It is difficult, if not impossible, to envisage any worse conduct than that pursued by the CFMEU," Justice Flick said.

"The CFMEU assumes a prominent role in the industrial affairs of this country and has consistently exhibited a contempt for compliance with the law," he said

"It is difficult to perceive how such conduct can be regarded as in the best interests of the bulk of its member and the workers it supposedly represents. Such conduct may promote the CFMEU as a "militant" union. But the constraints imposed by the law apply to all – including the CFMEU."

Senator Cash said there are more than 90 CFMEU representatives before the courts for more than 1,300 suspected contraventions.

A spokesman for Lendlease declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the CFMEU said it is studying the decision.


Nationals reject George Christensen's bid to ban the burqa - but only just

George Christensen's motion to adopt a policy of banning the burqa was defeated 55-51. The Nationals have rejected renegade MP George Christensen's motion to ban the burqa - but only by a few votes.

Mr Christensen says he will continue to push for the Turnbull government to adopt the policy of banning the face covering from government buildings and public spaces despite his own party's decision.

The urgent motion came to a vote at the Nationals federal conference on Sunday and was defeated 55 to 51.

Mr Christensen said the ban was needed for security reasons but also noted the party was "bleeding to the right" on such issues. The motion comes just weeks after One Nation leader Pauline Hanson caused a firestorm by wearing a burqa to Senate question time as part of her bid to ban it.

"Sadly my push to ban facial coverings in public places where it assists with security and safety just fell short of being passed as policy of the Nationals," Mr Christen said shortly after the vote.

"The federal conference of The Nationals voted 55-51 against the measure with several delegates in favour not being able to be present for the vote. As my local electorate and the LNP's Dawson branch strongly support a ban on facial coverings, I will continue to push for this to be government policy."

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce voted against the motion, despite disliking the burqa, citing Australia's trade with countries such as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. "In the agriculture sector, we do a lot of business with Islamic countries. I get along with them, they get along with me, and I just want to make sure that relationship continues on," he said before the vote.

"Have a discussion about security, have a discussion about issues, but just make sure you don't wander off into the realm of  discussing another person's religion. What people believe and how they talk to their God is their business."

Liberal cabinet minister Josh Frydenberg welcomed the Nationals decision, saying the government would not adopt a ban. "We need to be tolerant of all faiths. That being said, for me it is a confronting piece of clothing," he told Sky News.

Mr Joyce's deputy, Fiona Nash, also voted against Mr Christensen's motion. However, sidelined cabinet minister Matt Canavan and junior minister David Gillespie both supported the motion.

The Nationals on Saturday voted to remove all subsidies for renewable energy providers over a five-year period and to freeze them at their current level for the next year.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here