The underlying reasons for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Reasons for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may well include a vision to re-create a Russian empire.  The urgency to act is likely to be due to two other factors.

Russia’s financial dependence on oil and gas is very high – 60% of exports and 40% of the federal government’s revenue derives from oil and gas.  As the world acts against climate change by reducing fossil fuel consumption Russia stands to suffer a significant decline in income in coming decades.  This negatively impacts the flow of cash to the government and to the oligarchs who support Putin.

In addition, the Russian population is shrinking by up to one million a year, from a base of over 140 million.  President Putin has allocated considerable funds to encourage young people to lift the birth rate, but other countries have tried this without much success.  A shrinking population lowers the tax base which reduces tax revenue.

Ukraine possesses abundant supplies of minerals such as uranium, iron ore, and many others.  Much of Ukraine’s iron ore is exported to China.  These resources and Ukraine’s population of 43 million would be a valuable acquisition to more than offset Russia’s population and income decline.  And to preserve the wealth of the rulers.

The cost of sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion may not be large compared with what they face by the end of the decade.


Australia’s climate policy

With COP26 in Glasgow just days away, Australia’s government is still prevaricating over a 2050 target and a 2030 target.  After eight years in government it is the states, private enterprise, and individuals who have got on with the job of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  But now is the time for the federal government to belatedly join in with targets, strategy, and guarantees of achievement.

Australia has been setting new temperature records every six years on average, with each peak almost 0.2 degrees C hotter than the previous.  At that rate, by 2050 the peaks will be 2.5 degrees C hotter than they were  before the 1970’s.

Australia has suffered significant damage during the last peak in 2019, which resulted in tragic, extensive bushfires in 2019-20 with much loss of animals, vegetation, and property.

Australia must not do just its share – it must do much more than its share because it will be so badly scarred otherwise.

To cut or not to cut, that is the question
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The heat and drought of a changing climate
Or to take arms against more fossil fuels

May WS forgive me.

Charlie Nelson
Charlie Nelson


Climate change: above the tempest

Gail and I left Melbourne on a 6am flight on 11 August 2019, bound for Vanuatu via Brisbane.  There had been an Antarctic blast over south eastern Australia for several days and we were glad to be escaping from it.

Gail had told me of a news report which, in addition to describing the freezing weather, also mentioned that there were unseasonal winter bushfires in New South Wales.

As dawn broke, with us above the roiling clouds of the tempest, all was calm.

About 80 minutes after take-off we were reaching the boundary of the clouds.  Between breaks in the cloud I could see snow on the ground.  I estimated that we were above northern New South Wales, not far from the coast.  Rare snow indeed!

As I looked down on a snow covered village, I saw smoke from bushfires in nearby hills.  I also saw beaches beyond the plumes of smoke.  The fires were in remote country and so were probably not controlled burns.  It was a very worrying picture given the season.

The tempest would soon yield to conflagration.

To be continued …

The eclipse and the owl

The total eclipse of the Moon over Melbourne encouraged me out of bed at 3.30am on 28 July 2018.  An alignment last seen over 1200 years earlier was the main attraction.  A very bright Mars was to accompany the Moon through a longer than normal total eclipse.

I was standing at my tripod-mounted camera taking photos of the early stages of the eclipse when I heard a rustle behind me.  Then a bird flew close to my head and perched on a nearby fence.  It was too dark for birds!  I shone my torch towards it and saw that it was an owl!  It flew away too soon for me to identify the species of owl, but I was pleased that it was in the neighbourhood and that I had seen it.

A rare eclipse and a rare sighting of an owl in suburbia!  What did this very rare conjunction mean?

It probably signified nothing, but my imagination had been stimulated.

The owl is associated with wisdom in most cultures and also with wealth in others, especially in India.  Whatever wisdom I may possess, I was certain that I was lacking in wealth.  Could this alignment of the moon, a planet, and an owl be a harbinger of changing fortune?  I hoped so, but understood that this was simply an unlikely random event – and they happen frequently!

What we experience in this world is so unlikely as to be almost impossible.  Out of the billions of stars, how many harbour life?  None that we have discovered yet.  Why is it that the Earth’s shadow is just the right size at the Moon’s orbit to eclipse the Moon?  Why is it that the Moon appears the same size as the Sun, despite the Sun being vastly larger?  The Moon is just the right distance away to totally eclipse the Sun when the astronomical geometry aligns.

The probability of these conjunctions is infinitesimal – no other planet in the solar system provides such events.  Likewise, the existence of life.

While all this is so unlikely that it seems like magic, what we are doing to our world has predictable consequences.  Extinctions, climate change, pollution of the air and the oceans, and the list goes on.  Yet we do nothing to stop the inevitable.

If only humans had the wisdom of owls!


On climate change and world hunger

Bjorn Lomborg, writing in The Australian newspaper of January 19 2018, claims that climate change policies may be making world hunger worse.

He notes that after years of decline in global hunger, it increased in 2016 affecting 815 million people, an increase of 38 million from 2015.

He notes that the FAO blames the rise on a proliferation of violent conflicts and climate-related shocks.

He says that achieving the Paris agreement on climate change will not change the frequency and severity of climate-related shocks and that the huge investment in mitigating climate change could make global hunger worse – by encouraging the production of bio fuels rather than food and by diverting resources from strategies to reduce world hunger.

I am not as confident as Lomborg that actions to reduce climate change will have no impact on the frequency and severity of future droughts and floods that can reduce food production.  Also, violent conflicts which affect world hunger can in themselves be an outcome of climate change.

We do have to tackle multiple problems, on multiple time horizons, simultaneously.

Here is a suggestion that can reduce world hunger and mitigate climate change.


In Australia, and in many other countries, greenhouse gas emissions are rising even though they are falling on a per capita basis (an excused used recently by Josh Frydenberg, the Australian government’s minister for energy and the environment, to justify Australia’s continued increase in greenhouse gas emissions).

Reducing world population growth will tend to reduce both future world hunger and future greenhouse gas emissions.

Increased access to family planning services in countries which are prone to bouts of food shortage would be a great investment for the future.

Will electric car dreams come true?

It is very pleasing that Josh Frydenberg is talking of a bright future for electric cars (More than electric dreams, The Age, January 13).  He cites three reasons for the low take-up of electric cars in Australia (high purchase price, low range, and lack of infrastructure).  There are at least two other reasons.  The price of electricity has increased by 126% in the past ten years, while the price of motor fuel has risen by only 3% and no doubt drivers are expecting more steep price increases for electricity in the future.  In addition, the vast majority of electricity is produced by burning coal, so recharging the battery will still result in carbon dioxide emissions.  What is needed is a plan to generate significantly more renewable energy at cheaper prices and to stop blaming renewable energy for electricity price rises.  Only then will electric cars become more than an electric dream.

The above is my original letter to The Age, which was published on January 17 2018.  The published letter was edited because the 3% increase in the price of automotive fuel over the past 10 years, while true, was considered to be unbelievable.  The price index fell during 2015 and 2016 which compensated for rises before and since.

There is another reason for resistance to electric cars, in Australia and elsewhere.  The batteries do not charge as quickly as filling a tank with petrol or diesel.  New technology, probably in the form of super-capacitors may fix that problem in the future.

Russia’s key role in resolving climate change

New Scientist magazine (5 October 2013, page 17) reported that the collapse of the USSR resulted in the largest ever human-made carbon sink.

When the USSR split into separate republics in 1991, the loss of government subsidies and privatisation of land resulted in 455,000 square kilometres of farmland being abandoned.

As plants reclaimed the land, 42.6 million tonnes of carbon have been locked away every year since 1990 – equivalent to storing 10% of Russia’s annual carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel.

More recently, The Age reported that Russian villages are disappearing as the population declines.  As a result of some villages and hamlets becoming deserted, trees grow up through the old roads, making them impassable (July 31, 2017, reproduced from the New York Times).

This is a good situation for mitigating climate change, even if it is not a deliberate strategy.  A smaller population, assuming that carbon dioxide emissions per capita are not growing, means a fall in total emissions.  And an increase in the number of trees means more absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

United Nations population projections are for Russia’s population to decline from a figure of 144 million in 2017 to 133 million in 2050 and 124 million in 2100 (World Population Prospects, 2017 Revision).

Russia’s greenhouse gas emissions are rising after a large drop in the 1990’s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Russia’s plans for emissions reductions are not ambitious and it is not clear that President Putin is convinced of the need for reductions (, accessed 6 September 2017).

It is just as well that new trees are growing – Russia is a relatively large emitter of greenhouse gasses.

Russia is important to resolving climate change in another way.  It has vast forests, greater than the Amazon.  It has approximately one-fifth of the world’s forest areas.  Significant clearing would release vast amounts of carbon dioxide, so it is vital that these forests are protected.

With a better commitment and strategy, Russia has the potential to make a major contribution to a global reduction in net emissions.

Fallout from the Trump Paris Pullout

US President Donald Trump dumped America’s involvement in the 2015 Paris climate accord on 1 June 2017.  In doing so, he fulfilled an election pledge but also sealed the fate on a global climate change strategy.  We have been trying to achieve one since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit without a lasting agreement involving all major emitters.

His pullout is unlikely to result in more coal jobs in America, nor will it stop America’s progress towards a lower carbon dioxide intensity economy.  It is likely. However, that progress will be slower and it is possible that other countries will follow suit.

In May, the US Energy Information Administration reported that carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation was the lowest in 2015 since 1993 – and 21% below the 2005 level.  The amount of electricity generated from coal powered stations peaked in 2005, displaced by natural gas (which emits 60% less carbon dioxide per kilowatthour of electricity) and renewables.   In 2015, coal provided 34% of total electricity generated, natural gas 32%, nuclear 20%, and renewables 13% (up from 8% in 2005).

Of more concern is the possible return to the debate about whether the climate is changing and whether we should do anything at all about it.  The re-emergence of anthropogenic climate change denial may slow progress and in particular, prevent bipartisan agreements on government strategy in countries like Australia.  This appears to be happening, threatening a repeat of bitter political fighting over the issue of emissions trading in the US and Australia in 2009 which resulted in an absence of effective long-term national strategy in both countries.

While we should continue to achieve a global accord, we need to increase efforts aimed at resolving the issue of climate change in the absence of one.  Indeed, other governments (federal, state, and local), companies, and individuals will need to step up their efforts to reduce emissions.  There is some evidence that this is happening.

This is a short extract from a book I am writing about how we can effectively deal with climate change, even in the absence of an international agreement – or in the case of Australia and the USA, without even a national agreement.


Orangutans in Sumatra

Report to supporters

Gail and Charlie’s field trip to Sumatra, May 2017

We had a very successful trip, which was both enjoyable and informative.  It also presented a few challenges.  We are in no doubt that the work of The Orangutan Project (TOP) in re-establishing a viable orangutan population is successful and worthy of support.  TOP also has projects elsewhere in Sumatra and in Borneo.  Details are available on their website.

The Project

Orangutans have been extinct in central Sumatra for over a century.  The project, led by Leif Cocks as chief of TOP, has been running for 15 years and is based on 38,000 hectares of concession bordering a national park of 144,000 hectares.  They hope to take over another concession of 20,000 hectares.

A population of over 170 orangutans has been established.  These are mostly formerly captive animals who TOP staff have schooled in how to live in the wild.  The objective is to increase the population to 500 so that there is sufficient genetic diversity to support natural growth to 2,000.

There are also 150 elephants, about 40 tigers, some sun bears, and many other animals.  The Sumatran tiger is nearly extinct and this represents perhaps one-third of the total population left.  The elephants are tracked to minimise the risks to them and to minimise conflicts with local villagers.

They employ 200 staff working in a wide range of activities, including security.

Our activities

There was no vehicle access to the Bukit Tigapuluh camp because heavy rain had caused some bridges to be damaged.  So after our six hour trip by car from Jambi, we had a four hour walk, carrying our backpacks, over a very muddy track and wading rivers.  It was hot and humid, plus we had been out of bed since 3am to fly from Jakarta to Jambi.  We were all tired by the time we got to bed.

We went out with technicians to observe recently released orangutans.  They use telemetry, which is enabled by a small transmitter attached to the orangutans, to track them.  This process goes on for three years after release, to ensure that they are thriving.  We saw several orangutans, including some who were no longer being tracked but came to observe us!

We were attacked by leeches from the forest floor, so we lost some blood.

Three days later, we had the four hour walk out so that we could be transported to the orangutan sanctuary where jungle school is conducted, on the other side of the national park.  This is where orangutans are taught how to live in the jungle.  They are kept in cages and fed what they will eat in the wild, but they are released for several hours a day to learn about the jungle.  They are monitored by observers during this time.  They are also provided with enrichment, which develops their problem solving skills.

This photo shows construction of one enrichment activity, which hides fruit and bush honey in amongst leaves within a section of fire hose,  Many other enrichment designs are deployed.

In the evenings, Leif Cocks provided interesting talks on the various aspects of the project.

A thief in the night

One night, at 12.30 am, Charlie heard something shuffling across the porch outside our hut.  Then there was something banging a short distance away.  It was a clear night with a full moon.  In the shadows of the trees, an animal was banging something onto the ground.  It looked like an orangutan so Charlie woke Gail to have a look.  She thought it unlikely that it was an orangutan because they sleep in their nests in the trees at night.

A short while later, there were more noises outside and the animal was closer and not shaded by the trees.  It was carrying a sheet of some material in one of its feet.  Charlie called Gail again and it was agreed that it was an orangutan.

Next morning, we found one of our neighbour’s boots on the track and Gail’s poncho also, that was what it had been dragging along.  We had left waterlogged boots and clothes on the porch to dry.  We had also left small containers of sunscreen and insect repellent.  These too were on the track – they had been opened and a finger had clearly explored the contents.

Coming back from breakfast, we noticed a muddy handprint on our neighbour’s door.  It was clearly left by an orangutan.  The doors were not locked.

The full moon plus a clear sky had provided an opportunity for exploration and mischief.

Our learnings

The establishment of a new orangutan population is the best way to release captive animals.  In other areas we have visited, they have been released into areas with existing populations – this may limit the opportunity for growth of existing populations despite being a good thing for the released animals.

Palm oil plantations are destroying what little forest is left.  We knew this, but did not know that plantations for paper are also increasing rapidly.  This means we must reduce demand for both palm oil and paper.  About 80% of the Sumatran forest has been lost to plantations and (mostly illegal) logging.

Leif Cocks is looking to establish rainforest shade grown coffee so that locals can make money from the forest while orangutans can still live in it.

There are rubber plantations and orangutans can survive in these, so long as a range of food trees are also established (green rubber?).

This visit confirmed that orangutans are our closest cousins.  They are very intelligent and capable of learning at all ages.

Overall, we were heartened by the work of TOP.  It is increasing the orangutan population and both protecting and expanding habitat for orangutans and other threatened animals.

The forest is vibrant with a diverse range of flora and fauna living in a symbiotic relationship.


Resolving Climate Change

In June 2017, it will be 25 years since the first Rio Earth Summit.  Planning for that event started in 1989 and it was attended by representatives of 172 nations, 108 of whom were heads of state.  Amongst the many resolutions was a United Nations Framework on Climate Change which set out plans for avoiding dangerous climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 and has produced five detailed climate assessments (1990, 1995, 2001, 2007, 2014) each of them containing increasingly certain conclusions that human activity is affecting the climate and that the consequences for future decades are dire.  Thousands of scientists have contributed to these assessments.

Despite all this, not everybody believes that the climate is changing, or if it is, that human activity is responsible.  Not everyone believes the scientists.  In fact, not all scientists believe the majority of scientists.

Accordingly, politicians have not acted with sufficient resolve to implement effective measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The result is that the amount of the main greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, continues to rise and the rate of increase is not decreasing.

International agreements have been too weak and have not been universally supported.  US President Donald Trump has threatened to pull out of the 2015 Paris agreement, which came into effect in November 2016.

Federal governments in Australia (under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd) and the USA (under President Barak Obama) failed in their efforts to legislate the implementation of emissions trading schemes in 2009.

The trends in measured temperatures globally and the predictions of climate models suggest that we could pass the target of not exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius increase on pre-industrial temperatures within 25 years.

If that is to be avoided, a very different approach to reducing atmospheric greenhouse gasses is urgently needed.

The book I am writing on this problem, Resolving Climate Change, develops a new strategy to address climate change.  I am seeking funding to assist in bringing the book to market.

More information at OzCrowd

The planned chapters of the book include:

·         A review of the empirical and theoretical evidence that human activity is causing climate change.  This includes analysis of trends in temperatures and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Global and Australian data is analysed.

·         A breakdown of the contributing sources of carbon dioxide emissions in Australia and trends over time.

·         Analysis of changes in the levels of belief in climate change and support for action.  This identifies and quantifies the factors driving changing levels of belief and support for action.  Several time series data sets are analysed, from both Australia and the USA, as there are strong parallel trends in these countries.

·         Analysis of the levels of support for several specific types of action to reduce greenhouse gasses.  This is mostly Australian data.

·         Development of strategies to mitigate climate change which are less dependent on the level of belief in climate change amongst the general public and politicians.

As well as seeking donations to cover the costs of additional research, writing, producing, and marketing the book, I will seek the inputs of donors in the form of opinions and assessments of strategic options.  This is optional and opinions will be analysed in total only to guarantee anonymity.  It does not matter whether you believe in climate change or not – your opinions are an important contribution to the resolution of climate change.  Contributors will receive a summary of this survey and first drafts of chapters.

Progress towards the writing and publication of the book can be monitored at  The book will be published anyway if my target level of funding is not achieved, but it will take longer.

I have been monitoring climate change and related opinions of the general public for over a decade.  I am a member of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society and attend their conferences.  I subscribe to Nature Climate Change.  I understand the science and the drivers of belief.

My company, foreseechange ( has been tracking the level of belief in imminent global warming since 2005 – the longest continuous annual survey in Australia.  Analysis of this data, along with data from the Lowy Institute, the Climate Institute, IPSOS, and others in Australia, plus Gallup data from the USA appears in the book.  This data analysis identifies and quantifies the drivers of the level of belief in climate change and support for action.

Prudent risk management requires that we take action to avoid dangerous climate change, whatever our beliefs about its existence and causes.  Fortunately, many actions to minimise the risk bring with them co-benefits and so are worth doing in their own right.  I seek your help to highlight the risks and co-benefits of action.  We cannot afford another 25 years of procrastination.

You can support this project at OzCrowd