How much carbon are the candidates emitting?

Crikey's Election Tracker

Crikey’s Election Tracker reported today that Gillard has so far flown 39,431 km during the campaign and Abbott has flown 40,800 km.

I thought I’d take a ‘ballpark’ look at the carbon emissions associated with that travel.

For simplicity, I’ll assume they both flew all those kilometres in a standard jet such as a 150 seat Boeing 747 400. If I also assume a relatively high load factor like commercial carriers typically achieve, then Gillard’s personal carbon emissions so far are of the order of 6.2 tonnes and Abbott’s 6.4 tonnes (I’ve assumed 158g/passenger km, but there could be considerable variation depending on type of aircraft, load factors and distance. I’ve made no allowance for the altitude of discharge, so I’m treating this as a simple “order of magnitude” estimate) .

At the rate of around $25/tonne propounded by the Greens, they could each offset their personal emissions on the international market for little more than $150. Read the rest of this entry »

Who does Google like the most – Julia or Tony?

Google is being used for respectable academic research on issues like economic activity and health epidemics (for example, see this paper on how the recession in the US is impacting concern for the environment), so I thought I’d see how Julia Gillard is faring in terms of internet interest compared with Tony Abbott.

The first graph compares Google searches on ‘Gillard’ (red) and ‘Abbott’ (blue) over the last 30 days (up to August 1) within Australia.

Google says the numbers on the graph “reflect how many searches have been done for a particular term, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. They don’t represent absolute search volume numbers, because the data is normalized and presented on a scale from 0-100. Each point on the graph is divided by the highest point, or 100. When we don’t have enough data, 0 is shown”. Read the rest of this entry »

High speed rail – are the Greens as shallow as the rest?

Bob Brown let us know yesterday with his call for a high speed rail link from Brisbane to Melbourne that the Greens are just as susceptible to populism as Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.

In April he costed a Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne link at more than $40 billion. Yesterday he pointed to a survey commissioned by the Greens showing 74% of Australians support high speed rail. That’s not surprising because it is an attractive and beguiling idea – 94% of readers of The Age support it. After all, China and Europe can’t seem to build enough high speed rail and President Obama has grand plans for an extensive network in the US.

The idea of some form of very fast train service connecting Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne has been around at least since the 1980s. A number of feasibility studies have been undertaken, all of which concluded that it wouldn’t be feasible without massive Government assistance. So it’s worth asking a few questions:

  • why would we want to commit billions in Government subsidies to replace one form of public transport (planes) with another (trains)?
  • why would we want to replace the four airlines that currently compete vigorously on price and service on this route with a single monopoly rail operator? Read the rest of this entry »

Mandatory CO2 emissions – will Julia do enough?

Projected average CO2 emissions of the whole light vehicle fleet under a range of CO2 emission targets for new vehicles

With all the brouhaha about ‘cash for clunkers’, the mainstream media seems to have completely missed analysing a new initiative that was also announced on Saturday by the Prime Minister – mandatory CO2 emission standards for light vehicles.

Prime Minister Gillard committed the Government, if re-elected, to an obligatory average emission standard for new light vehicles of 190 g/km from 2015, and 155 g/km from 2024. This represents a 14% reduction on the 2008 level by 2015 and 30% by 2024.

This is the sort of initiative I’ve argued for before (here and here) as it recognises the reality that light vehicles (i.e. cars, SUVs, vans) will be around for a long time yet and something therefore needs to be done fast to make them more environmentally responsible.

It’s a pity the Government took the spotlight away from this worthwhile initiative by simultaneously announcing the deeply flawed ‘cash for clunkers’ scheme.

Yet the Government’s take on mandatory emissions is far from perfect. In fact it verges on feeble. The standards announced by the Prime Minister are well short of the European CO2 emissions standard, which is currently 160 g/km and by 2015 will be 130 g/km (see here). Read the rest of this entry »

Is Cash for Clunkers a great big new mistake?

Clunker - 1992 Nissan Pulsar

Did Julia Gillard read my post last Thursday arguing that she should take action in the election campaign to improve the fuel efficiency of Australia’s cars? Possibly not, but I wish now I’d left in the sentence saying that whatever happens, please don’t make the same mistake as President Obama and bring in a poorly-designed “cash for clunkers” program!

Now the PM has announced today her own Cash for Clunkers initiative (here and here) with the ostensible purpose of saving one million tonnes in carbon emissions (this is not an annual saving but the total over the life of the scheme).

The scheme will be financed by cutting back other programs, including the solar and carbon capture and storage programs, and the renewable energy bonus scheme (see here).

President Obama at least had the excuse that his scheme was primarily a pump-priming exercise designed to lift consumer spending in the wake of the GFC. In our context however, Cash for Clunkers looks like seriously bad policy. Even on the skimpy detail released today, it is evident there are clear failings. Read the rest of this entry »

What should be done about cars?

I’d like to see one of our political leaders steal a march in this election campaign by promising to do something about the environmental and ‘quality of life’ issues associated with car use.

Almost everyone recognises the weakness of our current car fleet in the face of climate change and peak oil, but no one seems to want to do much about it. Most of the focus is on expanding public transport and increasing urban density – at first glance this sounds good, but even on the most optimistic view cars are going to be the dominant mode in Melbourne for a long time yet.

For example, the Victorian Government set a target in Melbourne 2030 to increase public transport’s share of motorised trips to 20% by 2020 (it’s currently around 11%). The report of the Independent Public Inquiry into a Long-Term Public Transport Plan for Sydney, which was released earlier this year, aims to increase public transport’s share of all travel in Sydney to 25% over the next 30 years (currently around 16%) and walking and cycling’s to 10% (page 152)*.

Even if petrol prices suddenly went stratospheric, it would take decades to expand public transport ‘s capacity to a level where it could handle the majority of trips. And it would still have to compete for funding with other areas of serious need like health, education and social housing. This would be more complicated if dramatically higher petrol prices were accompanied by a severe contraction in economic activity. Read the rest of this entry »

Who else is Moving Forward?

Photo by Daniel Bowen (Flickr)

Connex wasn’t the only company to use Moving Forward as their logo before it was adopted by the ALP for the 2010 Federal election. A quick search on Google shows that many organisations like to show they’re on the move and, moreover, that when they move, they move forward. Not surprisingly there’re transport companies, but there are also libraries, psychologists, a farmer, singers and more. Here’s just a sample:

Clinical Psychological Services

The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Moving Forward Australia

Qld State Archives

State Library of NSW

Pathways to Citizenship

Australian Logistics Council

Dairy Moving Forward Initiative

Mission 242


Christiana Love

Why is there still a focus on Julia vs Kevin?

It might seem like yesterday’s news but there’s a reason the Prime Minister’s opponents are continually focussing on exactly how she took over from Kevin Rudd.

This newly published research examined the proposition that “the perception that a candidate is power-seeking will lead to social penalties for female politicians but not for male politicians and that these penalties may be reflected in voting preferences”.

The research was undertaken by Yale University School of Management researchers, Tyler Okimoto and Victoria Brescoll. It is published in the latest issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Here’s the abstract: Read the rest of this entry »

Minister for Sustainable Population: What’s in a name?

The new Prime Minister’s minor renaming of the Population portfolio to Sustainable Population suggests there’s a political agenda in play and a new way of thinking about “big Australia”. The terms sustainability and population have been conflated so the Government can walk a new path through the “big Australia” and “boat people” minefields.

But what it’s also saying is that you can’t have one without the other – population growth and environmental sustainability have to be traded off. The two concepts are necessarily in conflict, always and forever.

Population distribution, Australia (

While that’s perhaps true in a narrow sense, it doesn’t follow that Geelong is necessarily more environmentally sustainable than Melbourne (according to the ACF it isn’t!) or that both have a lower environmental “footprint” than New York.

In fact despite its considerably larger size, New York is substantially more environmentally sustainable than Melbourne. Large concentrations of people provide economies of scale in, for example, the consumption of energy by favouring travel by public transport and smaller, attached dwellings. Bigger is often more environmentally sustainable.

Of course bigger cities also tend to produce larger negative externalities. But the main reason that size is often accompanied by problems like traffic congestion and unaffordable housing is the failure of political and policy systems. Read the rest of this entry »

Does My School have lessons for planners?

The brouhaha over My School is an important lesson for those of us interested in geography because it demonstrates how misleading a reliance on average values can be.

In a previous post, Limitations of My School, I pointed to some problems with the Index of Community Socio-educational Advantage (ICSEA) used on the My School web site. In particular, I was surprised to find that prestigious Melbourne Grammar scored much the same on ICSEA as nearby State school, Camberwell High.

This unlikely result was because each school’s ICSEA rating is calculated from the social and economic characteristics of the Census Collection Districts in which its students live.

Camberwell High School

The problem is that although the average socioeconomic status of Camberwell and surrounds is very high, there are nevertheless significant numbers of residents whose incomes don’t extend to finding upwards of $20,000 per annum in post tax income to fund a private school education for each of their children.

In other words, Camberwell High ranks highly on ICSEA because its students live in ritzy areas, not because the students themselves come from relatively well-off families (although some former students, like Kylie Minogue, have gone on to considerable financial success).

What this tells us is that not all households within a cluster of contiguous suburbs earn the average income – there’s considerable variability even though the suburbs might, on average, be quite affluent.

To throw further light on this issue, I looked at the incomes of families in Ivanhoe East at the 2006 Census to try and get a handle on the degree of variability in income within a small geographical area. Ivanhoe East is around the same distance from the CBD as Camberwell and has 984 families. It has about six times as many dwellings as a Census Collector’s District (Camberwell has 5,011 families). Read the rest of this entry »

Limitations of My School

The My School web site launched by the Deputy Prime Minister earlier this year has some important lessons for any disciplines that rely heavily on spatial measures to capture social and economic information.

With two school age children, I’m sympathetic to Julia Gillard’s push for more information to be made available on schools’ performance.  I think providing the NAPLAN information is a good start and I’m looking forward to seeing time-based data next year. Read the rest of this entry »