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Lowe Tech

Lowe Tech column

Concern at Emissions and Health Impacts of Coal

By Ian Lowe

The expansion of coal seam gas operations could eventually produce as much greenhouse gas as all the cars on the road in Australia.

Two new reports have put energy options firmly on the political agenda. The Australian government has released a technical discussion paper on the greenhouse gas emissions from coal seam gas, and the University of Illinois has published a report summarising the scientific evidence of health effects from coal-fired electricity. Both these documents show an urgent need for new thinking about energy supply.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

“Shortcomings” Identified in Marine Park Network

By Ian Lowe

A report finds that highly protected marine areas tend to be the least economically valuable rather than the most ecologically vulnerable.

There were celebrations in the scientific community when the Australian government announced the world’s largest network of marine protected areas last year. But now detailed analysis of the changes has revealed what the science journal Nature calls “worrying shortcomings” in the network’s coverage of the oceans.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

Bushfire Research Burnt

By Ian Lowe

The discontinuance of funding for the Bushfire CRC is a prime example of bureaucratic myopia.

The early announcement of a date for the Australian election should allow time for reasoned debate of important policy issues. In the normal 6 weeks of frenetic campaigning, politicians might be forgiven for concentrating on economic trivia and personalities.

With more than 6 months until voters go into the polling booths, there is no such excuse. We are entitled to expect those competing for our vote to be spelling out their vision for the future – including the crucial role of science and innovation.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

Researchers Frustrated by Career Prospects

By Ian Lowe

A new survey finds that researchers like their work but are frustrated by limited career paths.

A new survey has found widespread discontent in the Australian research community. In a report for the Australian Council of Learned Academies, experienced analysts Jenni Metcalfe and Toss Gascoigne have documented “bitterness, anger and frustration”, especially among junior researchers struggling to establish their careers. They live with the uncertainty of short-term contracts and poor prospects of grant support. Many also feel they receive inadequate mentoring.

Coal Seam Gas Expansion Ignores Serious Issues

By Ian Lowe

Coal seam gas extraction is expected to expand despite a cautionary report into the risks.

Coal seam gas has been the subject of heated disputes in recent years. Extracting methane from coal seams was originally a safety measure to reduce the risks of mining, but the huge volume of the gas in coal measures has led to investment in extraction as an energy source.

There could be a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions if the methane was being burned directly to replace coal-fired electricity, but the reality is not that simple.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

Wind Energy Blows Strong

By Ian Lowe

South Australia’s wind farms are generating almost one-quarter of the state’s energy needs.

The Murdoch press has been running a campaign against wind energy, but the facts from South Australia show that wind turbines can make a major contribution to a clean energy future.

On one windy day in early September, the state’s wind farms produced 55% of all the electricity used in South Australia. At its peak in the early hours of one morning, wind was producing 85% of the power being consumed.

So much for the furphies that renewables can’t provide baseload power or contribute significantly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions!

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

Landcare Evolves, But Beancounters Haven’t

By Ian Lowe

It makes more economic sense to trash the farm for short-term profit than to farm it sustainably.

The national Landcare program was formally launched in 1989 with an ambitious goal of spreading to 2000 local groups. The early focus was on planting trees to preserve topsoil and strengthen the banks of inland waterways. There are now well over 5000 community-based groups in all corners of Australia.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

Tasmania’s Logging Industry Cut Down to Size

By Ian Lowe

A study has found that Tasmania’s forestry industry “is not economically viable”.

Forestry talks in Tasmania have provoked two Canberra observers to calculate the cost to the community of subsidising the logging of native forests. Richard Denniss, who heads the Australia Institute, and Andrew Macintosh of the Australian National University’s Centre for Environmental Law, have concluded that Forestry Tasmania “is not economically viable”.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

A Great Leap Backwards

By Ian Lowe

Queensland’s new government has reduced support for solar energy and resolved to ban the teaching of climate science in schools.

Queensland, where I live most of the time, elected a Liberal–National Party government a few months ago. It seems to be doing a Great Leap Backwards.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

Chubb Reviews the Health of Australian Science

By Ian Lowe

Australia’s Chief Scientist has found that the Australian science system is healthy and robust, but there are some serious challenges – particularly regarding student enrolments.

In May Australia’s Chief Scientist, Prof Ian Chubb, launched the eagerly anticipated Health of Australian Science report (see also Simon Says, p.3). His office’s web site described the report as “a comprehensive overview of Australia’s science system, outlining our strengths and vulnerabilities”.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.