I have not been keeping this website up to date but I promise to be better in the future. The past ten months have been busy, I am still at the University but I changed research projects and have some exciting new responsibilities. The good news is my current project is a bit more flexible and I should be able to blog a bit more about some of the fun aspects of my research. I am now at the Centre for Renewable Energy at Charles Darwin University. I am working on an energy efficiency project targeting low income indigenous households in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. My new role also includes teaching. I am the course coordinator for two new courses in the School of Environment. The courses are Environmental Planning and Policy (ENV 513) and Carbon Economies (ENV 514). Both courses will début in March 2014. It will be a mix of theoretical and practical aspects of the subjects and will include speakers from RIEL, community leaders, and government planners. The courses will be offered on-line as well as via traditional classroom teaching and the on-line class should be as engaging and interesting as the on-campus course. Watch this space for developments.

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Community Midwifery Practice at Royal Darwin Hospital

Today is the start of the third trimester. In less than 3 months we should be meeting the new bub. When we arrived in Darwin I did not understand how the health care system worked and I had trouble finding information despite lots of internet searching so I thought I would write up a bit about our experience.

28 Weeks, start of the third trimester.

28 weeks, start of the third trimester.

The first step once you discover you are pregnant is to contact a GP. You need to get a referral from a GP in order to get an antenatal appointment at the hospital. We did not have a regular GP so we just contacted one close to our house in Nightcliff. I saw the GP at 10 weeks and she asked a few questions, provided me with my orange health record (which you take to every antenatal appointment) and then I was sent to the lab for routine blood and urine tests. The GP will ask you where you want your referral sent. The GP I saw was not helpful and tried to pressure us into going to the private hospital. Before the GP can send a referral you need to decide if you want to go to the public hospital, a private obstetrician or shared care. There are also options such as homebirth that I will not discuss since I do not know much about it. There are three private OBs in Darwin but we decided to go with the public hospital. You can also select shared care, which means you see your GP for most visits and visit the OB at 37, 40 and 41 weeks and then deliver you baby in the hospital. Once you decide on which route you want to take, the GP will send a referral to the public hospital or OB. Within one week of the appointment we received a notice from Royal Darwin Hospital that they had booked our first appointment at 12 weeks.

Pregnancy health record that you must take to every antenatal appointment

Pregnancy health record that you must take to every antenatal appointment

At our first appointment we saw a midwife and an obstetrician. All the midwives we encountered at RDH have been fantastic. The midwife explained that because I had a low risk pregnancy we had three options for our antenatal care at the public hospital: shared care, midwives clinic or community midwifery practice. If we had been high risk we would have been in the antenatal clinic and had most of our appointments with an obstetrician. We had already decided against shared care since we did not have a GP we really loved and we felt comfortable with the midwives. The midwives clinic is on the 8th floor of the hospital and at each visit you see a different midwife and when you deliver, the midwife on duty will be present. The other option is the Community Midwifery Practice (CMP) which is on the ground floor at RDH. If you choose CMP, you are assigned a team of three midwives and you will see one of them at all your appointments, they will be with you at the birth and will visit you at home afterwards for up to three weeks. The CMP birthing suite is relatively new and much nicer than the upstairs delivery suites and from what I have seen are nicer than the delivery suites at the private hospital. The advantages of CMP are that you see the same group of midwives and you have a very nice private delivery suite. The birthing suites also have a pool available for water births. The disadvantage is if there are no complications with your delivery you are discharged after four hours and a midwife comes to your house the same day for a visit. The CMP program has a waiting list so if you want to be included you need to register your interest early on in your pregnancy. We asked at our 14 week appointment, were accepted into the program a few weeks later and have been seeing the CMP midwives since 18 weeks. We are extremely happy with the CMP program. The midwives are fantastic and it is nice to see the same faces each visit.

Birthing suite at RDH

Birthing suite at CMP birthing centre

Birthing pool available at RDH in the CMP birthing suite

Birthing pool available at RDH in the CMP birthing centre

Once you have selected the level of care, the appointments are all pretty similar. We have appointments at 12, 18, 22, 28 32, 35, 37, 39 and 40 weeks. We also had an ultrasound at 20 weeks and a blood test for gestational diabetes at 27 weeks. I believe there are a couple more blood tests and we see the obstetrician at 37 weeks but otherwise that is the schedule for our visits. If you are a new to Australia and here on a temporary visa (for example, we are on a 457 visa) the costs of your maternity care will not be covered. We have health insurance but there is a 1-year waiting period for maternity costs. In Darwin, the midwives visits are $98 and the ultrasound is $120. I have been keeping detailed records on the costs and after the birth I will write up a detailed post of the expenses.

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The Next Adventure

In addition to our move to Darwin and new jobs, Jeff and I have been working on another project. This project has caused me to switch from running to swimming and often makes me crave funny foods . I will give you a hint. It is a baby. We get to meet Baby Ballweg in April 2013. We have no idea what we are doing but we are looking forward to this next adventure.


Baby’s first photo


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Scenes from My Commute

It has been a few months since I posted anything but there have been some big changes. I submitted my thesis in June, took a quick trip home to see family and now Jeff and I are living in Darwin, Australia. I am working as a researcher at a local university. I had planned on posting more about my project but I have received conflicting information on the University’s social media policy. I have decided to stay away from discussions about my research. Instead, I thought it would be fun to post a few pictures of my commute to work, which I am convinced is the World’s Best Commute! I live in a suburb of Darwin called Nightcliff and it is adjacent to the ocean. There is a great cycleway that traverses from the Darwin CBD through Nightcliff up to the University. I don’t have to cross a single road on my commute and I get views of the Timor Sea, Rapid Creek and the Casuarina Coastal Reserve.

Views of the Timor Sea along the bike path on the Nightcliff foreshore

Rapid Creek bridge


Entering the Casuarina Coastal Reserve


The final bridge on my commute

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How Not to Design a Survey

Roy Morgan, I will not be completing your survey. Are companies actually paying money for your survey results? The survey is poorly designed and it is hard to imagine you are gathering useful and accurate information from a relevant cross-section of the population.

Let’s start with the obvious; the survey is two booklets totalling 163 pages. Who has the time? My compensation for completing the survey is a $20 petrol voucher. I do not currently own a car. One booklet has to be completed every day for a week. It will take me hours to complete.

The survey is two booklets totalling 163 pages. Who has the time to complete it?

Second, the questions are out of date. Your survey asks if I play video games. I do enjoy a round of Angry Birds from time-to-time on my mobile phone. My friends play games on their iPads or Facebook. But my choices for video games did not include internet games. So I had to answer that I do not play. I do not have any friends that play on traditional consoles but almost all my friends play games on the internet. The Economist had a special report about video games. Did you know gaming is the fastest growing media industry? But the average gamer is older and plays games on the internet, not a traditional console. All of those people are forced to say they do not play games according to the choices on your survey.

The survey needs modernising. It asks about video games but doesn’t include games played on mobile phones or tablets.

Finally, the questions are confusing and poorly laid out. The time frames switch in the same questions. In the same table I have to answer if I have “eaten-in, had take-away or purchased” food from various establishments in the past SIX MONTHS, then I have to say the number of times I visited in the past FOUR WEEKS and the amount I spent in the past SEVEN DAYS. Your questions are filled with underlining and bold type. I find the layout very distracting.

Here are my suggestions. 1) Modernise your survey. The questions need updating and the surveys should be offered online. 2) Offer short but more frequent surveys. I would be willing to do a 10-15 minute survey every month. I could sign up to receive the survey and complete it online.  3) Better incentives to complete the survey. If you want me to even consider completing your survey, you need to offer a bigger incentive, closer to $150. Or instead of a $20 petrol voucher, you could donate $5 to my favourite charity every time I complete a short monthly survey.  I have more tips but if you start with those you will be on the right path. I know survey design is hard but a poorly designed survey is worse than no survey.

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Reservation Price Infographic

This month has been the busiest of my academic career. I am planning to submit my PhD thesis at the end of June and I am creating a poster for the New Zealand Institute of Forestry Conference in early July. The two tasks are very different as my thesis is around 50,000 words while the poster should have less than 500 words. Trying to switch from writing my thesis and making sure everything is covered to trying to explain my research with a few paragraphs of text and some key charts is challenging. For the poster, I decided to focus on just one small part of my research, the key factors that affect the reservation price of forest landowners.

The estimation of afforestation reservation prices for small landowners in New Zealand has not been the subject of much research despite its importance in helping predict future land use.  Reservation prices for planting represent the minimum payment a landowner must receive before converting land from agriculture to forest. In this study, reservation price strategies were investigated using hypothetical annual and one-time payments for converting land from agriculture to forestry for 728 landowners with 20 to 200 hectares of forest and another agricultural enterprise. The survey asked landowners about their current forest land, ownership objectives, silviculture and reservation prices.

Landowners were asked to select the lowest payment they would accept from a list of eight payments. The average one-time payment a landowner would be willing to accept to convert a hectare of land from agriculture to forestry was $3,554 and the average annual payment to convert a hectare of land was $360.

The final reservation price model included five variables: payment amount, whether a landowner lives on the property, primary agricultural enterprise, landowner’s interest in carbon credits and total household income. I will post the entire poster once it is finished but here is my favourite infographic that my amazing husband at Cloudworks Media created.

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Proposed Changes to the ETS

The New Zealand government reviewed the ETS legislation in 2011 and today they released the following recommendations. They are asking for feedback so have a look at their document and let them know what you think. I have outlined the key recommendations and my thoughts on them.

Recommendation one: phase out the ‘transition measures’ more gradually from 2013 to 2015 by accepting the Panel’s recommendation to phase out the ‘one for two’ measure in three equal steps.

My opinion: thumbs down. The transition measures were set to expire in 2012. The argument is that businesses need more time to adapt but in reality, if businesses were transitioned in they would start investing in green technology. The one for two measure also needs to be phased out sooner rather than later. Currently companies do not pay for their full emissions. They only have to pay one unit (NZU) for every two tonnes of carbon emitted. As long as companies get to emit for half price there is less incentive for making the changes needed to lower total emissions. It is keeping the price of NZUs low, causing a disincentive for forestry and more sustainable forms of energy.

Recommendation two: maintain the $25 fixed price option until at least 2015 rather than accepting the Panel’s recommendation to increase the fixed price by $5 each year.

My opinion: thumbs down. The original plan was to increase the fixed price option by $5 per year starting in 2013. In reality the price of carbon is still below $25 per tonne and with the extension of the “one for two” it is not likely the market price would exceed the governments $25 per tonne fixed price.

Recommendation three: introduce more explicit powers to enable auctioning of NZUs within an overall cap subject to further consultation on the detailed settings.

My opinion: tentative thumbs up. A cap and auction means the government sets a cap on emissions and emitters purchase emissions rights from the government in regularly scheduled auctions. I think auctions are a good idea and preferable to giving away free permits but there is not enough detail on the proposed auctions to decide if it is a good idea.

Recommendation four: provide a power for appropriate quantitative restrictions on the use of international units subject to further consultation on details.

My opinion: thumbs up. I am in agreement that there is something wrong with the international units available on the market. International units were designed to help in the early stages if domestic units were not available, but the price is so low on international units that there is no incentive to plant forests or lower emissions and sell the credits. Furthermore, the validity of some international units are questionable. The worst offenders are the CERs from industrial gas projects which the NZ government banned back in December.

Recommendation five: provide more flexibility to convert land to its highest value use by allowing for the ‘offsetting’ of deforestation on pre-1990 forest land, and consistent with the international flexible land-use rules agreed in Durban.

My opinion: thumbs up. Offsetting was one of the most debated topics in Durban and Copenhagen. Opinions are mixed and there is certainly plenty of room for fraud and “greenwashing”, but I think it is a good option for New Zealand. Currently forest landowners in the ETS have to replant the same site after harvesting. With offsetting landowners could replant an equal amount of forests in a different part of their property. This would provide landowners with some flexibility in making land use decisions.

Recommendation six: in light of the introduction of pre-1990 forest ‘offsetting’, which will significantly reduce deforestation liabilities under the ETS, review the number of compensatory NZUs provided to pre-1990 forest landowners.

My opinion: thumbs up. Pre-1990 forests have been a problem for forest landowners. Because Kyoto was signed to reduce emissions to pre-1990 levels, trees planted before then were already considered to be contributing to emissions levels and landowners were penalised for harvesting. The decrease in land value for those landowners was offset by a free allocation of NZUs from the government. If the government decides to allow off-setting, the harvesting obligations for pre-1990 forest landowners will be reduced by as much as 50-75% depending on the price of NZUs. It is fair to rethink the free NZUs allocated to those landowners.

Forest Plantation in Otago

Recommendation seven: provide for a power to delay the entry of emissions from animal livestock and fertiliser use for up to three years if certain criteria are not met, following a review in 2014.

My opinion: thumbs down. I realise that agriculture is the main emitter in New Zealand but delaying entry hurts everyone else. Forest industry, technology for lowering emissions and green energy all pay for a delay, resulting in a free subsidy to the agricultural industry at the expense of other sectors. The argument is that green technology needs to be available to agriculture before inclusion in the ETS. This is terrible economics and logic. Investment in new technology is demand driven.

Recommendation eight: provide for a power to extend, if necessary, the fixed price option beyond 2015 and align it with any price ceiling in Australia if we link with the Australian scheme.

My opinion: thumbs down. Get rid of the fixed price option. Let the market decide.

In summary, the recommendations are a bit mixed. I like the forestry recommendations but the other recommendations seem to be giving agriculture a big subsidy to keep emitting. Research shows that when emitters are required to pay for emissions, they develop emission reducing technology. What do you think? The government is asking for feedback. You have until 11 May 2012 to let them know your opinion.

A mix of land uses on the Canterbury plains

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My dad was an environmental engineer that worked for the government in groundwater issues, specifically nonpoint source pollution. My siblings and I all share memories of more than a few tours of water treatment plants on family holidays. Growing up one of my favourite pieces of clothing was a shirt that said “Groundwater, Wisconsin’s Buried Treasure”. I still don’t have much fashion sense but you can imagine my excitement when I heard Robert Glennon would be speaking at the University of Canterbury. His book, Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to Do About It”, has been on my reading list for a bit.

Robert Glennon lecture on the University of Canterbury campus

“There is no lack of water in the Mojave Desert unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.” Edward Abbey

 Robert Glennon started with this quote by Edward Abbey. Edward Abbey is of course referring to Las Vegas, which is a classic example of the water crisis in America. The city has 15 of the 20 largest hotels in the world. The Bellagio fountain features an eight acre pond that holds 27 million gallons of water and more than 1200 water jets shoot water almost 250 feet in the air. Las Vegas is a big city and it is growing. It is expected to add another 1.2 million people by 2020. The problem is that Las Vegas does not have any water. The city has used up its rights to Colorado River water from Lake Mead. The only way they can get more water is to fund conservation projects and use the water. Las Vegas is currently working to build a $2 billion pipeline from the Spring and Snake Valley in Utah to Las Vegas. All this for a resource that people turn on their taps and receive for free. Despite this, in some ways, Las Vegas is the future of water use. New hotels are required to be double plumbed. The Bellagio fountain gets all their water from the run off on an adjacent golf course. The Mirage and Treasure Island hotels have a treatment plant under the hotel. They recycle water, use low-flow fixtures, shower aerators, on-demand hot water. The 4000 room hotel uses less water than the golf course.

Bellagio Fountain in Las Vegas. Photo Courtesy of P. Tang.

The water crisis isn’t limited to Las Vegas. Orme, Tennessee ran out of water and was forced to truck in water from Alabama.  Bowater, a South Carolina paper company, closed because low river flows prevented the plant from discharging its wastewater. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission denied permits for new reactors in Georgia due to lack of water. Every year farmers lose crops from lack of irrigation water. Scientist predict that Lake Mead, which supplies water to Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas could dry up by 2021. Lake Superior is too low to float fully loaded cargo ships. Atlanta came within 90 days of running out of water.

Lake Lanier provides the water supply for Atlanta. Photo from the 2007 drought courtesy of institute.ourfuture.org

Georgia’s problem is not that they do not get enough rain; they get 49 inches of rain a year. The problem in Atlanta is sprawl. I-75 in Atlanta is 15 lanes wide and because traffic is still a problem, they are widening it to 23 lanes wide. The highway will be wider than the length of a rugby field. When faced with an impending crisis that would leave the biggest city in Georgia without water, you would think the governor might start by limiting people from building new wells. In Atlanta you don’t need a permit to build a new well unless you will be pumping more than 100,000 gallons EACH DAY! Instead the governor decided that one solution would be to declare that the state survey boundaries were erroneous and the Georgia boundary should be moved north one mile in order to give Georgia access to the Tennessee River. The Governor also held a prayer vigil in order to pray for more rain. In 2007 during the height of the drought, the governor announced plans for a snow mountain sponsored by Coca-Cola. It would be a 13,000 square foot area and they would make 200 tons of snow a day. They started making snow in early October when the temperature reached 27C (81F).

Snow Park at the base of Stone Mountain, Georgia. Photo courtesy of snowmountainpark.com

 “You can’t become president in America without going to Iowa and bowing to the shrine of corn” Robert Glennon. Glennon also points the finger at Ethanol plants in the Midwest.  The current ethanol debate ignores water. It takes as much as 2500 gallons of water for corn for one gallon of ethanol. California has a goal of 1 billion gallons of ethanol per year. It will need 1.7 TRILLION gallons of water. In my home state of Wisconsin, rainfall waters corn, but west of the Mississippi River they rely on irrigation.

Our modern economy relies on water in other ways. Google’s server farms are cooled by water. Intels chips are produced with lots of pure water. This need for water is leading to cities to turn to extreme measures to get their water. They are diverting rivers, building dams and drilling wells. These “solutions” are leading to dried up rivers and land subsidence. A private financer, Aaron Million, in Colorado proposed a $4 billion pipeline from Wyoming to Colorado Springs. The pipeline would go OVER the Rocky Mountains and cost $95 billion/year. Other people have proposed cloud seeding. They suggest dispersing silver iodide into clouds to cause rain even though scientists are sceptical and there is no convincing scientific proof it works. Other cities are building costly desalination plants. They sound promising but are very expensive, use lots of energy and disposing of the leftover salt has led to contamination of marine ecosystems.

Glennon provides several practical solutions. The first is to modernize the flush toilet and treatment plants. Flushing the toilets accounts for 1/3 of domestic indoor water use. We treat all water to make it potable even though only 10% gets used for drinking and cooking. There are better solutions such as composting toilets, waterless urinals and incinerating toilets.

The second solution is to conserve and encourage green infrastructure. Much of what Las Vegas is requiring in new hotels should be the standard around the U.S. Santa Fe, New Mexico does a good job of encouraging xeriscaping instead of golf course type lawns. They need to encourage green infrastructure such as rain barrels and using greywater.

Xeriscaping in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the Santa Fe Sun.

The third solution is to reallocate water. Utah stopped automatically granting permits for new wells. Santa Fe demands that every new development project must offset water required for construction. When Geneva Steel in Utah was sold, they received $101 million for the real estate and machinery and equipment and $102 million for the water rights. The water rights were worth more than the factory and land. Agriculture uses 75% of the water in the Western US. Farmers need to use less water by improving efficiency and growing crops appropriate for water level.

His final solution is my favourite. We need a water market. Water should not be free. We need to protect people’s right to water but price the other 99%. Americans need an average of 50 litres of water a day. Water usage beyond a reasonable level should cost money. Water is a classic example of tragedy of the commons. We need price signals to encourage conservation and we need to quantify water rights and make them transferable. Voluntary transfers are preferable to government mandates. Markets produce winners and loser so we need government oversight to produce a regulated market. The government needs to protect third parties and prevent negative externalities such as sprawl. Glennon’s final message was that voluntary transfers would provide water for new demands and break America’s relentless cycle of overuse.


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500 Days of Earthquakes

The Press had an article about the Canterbury earthquakes with some interesting statistics. Christchurch had more than 9500 earthquakes in the past 500 days. We had an average of one earthquake of magnitude 3+ every FOUR hours. No wonder none of the doors and windows in my house line up and all my photos are attached to the shelves with Blu-Tack. For more interesting statistics, read the full article.

500 days ago I had never felt an earthquake. Now I can guess magnitudes and fault lines, liquefaction is a part of my every day vocabulary, I can discuss various types of demolition equipment and all my favourite pubs and cafes are now operating out of shipping containers.  Kia Kaha Cantabrians.

Converted shipping container cafe in Merivale

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Forestry Fleece Jackets

The School of Forestry jumpers we ordered arrived. They arrived in less than two weeks and look terrific. I think the logo turned out especially nice. I was expecting just a white logo but the touch of grey and green really looks good. Thanks to the local Christchurch company, Brandwear, for the excellent custom embroidery. I think we will try to order some polo shirts in the fall.

School of Forestry Fleece Jacket Logo

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