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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

hijacking Greeenhouse policy « Previous | |Next »
February 14, 2006

I watched the ABC's 4 Corners program on the Greenhouse Mafia last night. It came as no suprise.

I fully concur with what Guy Pearse, a speechwriter to Robert Hill, the Environment Minister 1997-2000, had to say about the influence of the fossil fuel lobby on government policy:

Well really I’ve discovered why ah Australian policy, greenhouse policy is being driven by the mining and energy sectors, ah which I thought was curious along the way, given that they have such a small contribution to the economy. Um in 1900 the commodities generated 30 per cent of our GDP and our employment. Ah today that’s more like eight per cent. The mining and energy sectors only generate about two per cent of our jobs

These industries are declining, yet the lobbyists from the high-energy-using industries undermined the Environment Department and they have blocked any greenhouse reforms. They run Greenhouse policy, they have privileged access to the inner circles of power and they see any scheme producing delectricity by renewable power sources (such as wind, hydro and solar) as potentially threatening their source of cheap electricity supplied by coal-fired power stations.

The mantra from these industries in the old economy is that access to cheap energy is critical to Australia’s economy being competitive.The block comes into play around the unwillingness of the heavily protected, and anti-competitive, fossil fuel industry to clean up its own act. So Australia will continue to get warmer and experience more extreme weather events.

The industry players have the inside running on greenhouse policy and the scientific experts have been silenced in terms of greenhouse policy around Kyoto's mandatory trading, targets for reducing emissions and the polluter pays principle. We have a heavily subsidised industry (tax, concessions direct expenditures) that generates two per cent of our employment has got the keys to the greenhouse policy car.

Steve Benson

The hands of the fossil fuel lobby (coal, aluminium industry and petroleum industry) were all the 2004 Energy White Paper. This did not increase the mandatory renewable energies target (MRET), did not to ratify the Kyoto protocol, did not have a target going beyond the Kyoto target and did not enter into emissions trading which provides the mechanism for the free market to decide the best way.They are behind the push for technology (geosequestration for coal) as the saviour in the absence of emissions targets and trading.

So there is no incentive for the fossil fuel industy to invest in the technology. So they are not going to clean up their own act. They will continue to block the development of the new companies that will provide the future jobs. in the new economy.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:44 AM | | Comments (13)


What ABC/CSIRO didn't tell us is that the Sun is the primary driver of our ever-changing climate. There is no such thing as a "pre-industrial climate" - whose mythical stability can be regained by 'doing the right thing' about greenhouse gas emissions. We are on a 300-year warming trend since the last long period of very cold Northern Hemisphere winters in the Maunder Minimum (1645-1715); people died then. Solar eruptive activity can be predicted (not just "projected" like IPCC and CSIRO do with future warming). If the Sun keeps playing by the rules, detectable cooling will be here by the end of this decade; and the next Little Ice Age cold period will be fully developed by 2030. How will governments keep a much larger population warm and fed during the Landscheidt Minimum?

you may well be right.

But we still have the energy intensive lobby playing the protection game to stifle the newly forming renewable energy industry. The post is about the influence that industry has over government policy.

Gary, lobbying has a bad name, I know - although it didn't seem so bad when I did it myself. In fact, I think it is an important, even vital, adjunct to western democracy. Bureaucrats must advise Ministers, and Ministers must make proposals to Cabinet.

But bureaucrats don't - and can't - know everything in this complex world. If they expected that you would say something worth hearing, it was not difficult to see them; and sometimes the Minister or one of his staffers would sit in - if you were lucky. Doubtless, this also applied to those pushing the contra view.

I always left a two-page (not longer) analysis of the topic under review, written in such a way that parts could be lifted from it and put into a ministerial briefing or cabinet paper. I see this as making sure that Government knew the issue as you saw it - if you didn't end up with what you wanted, at least you knew your case had been properly put. But give a dog a bad name, and ....


I've also have worked a lobbyist as well as on the Senate side of politics. So I appreciate the information and perspective that can be supplied by lobbyists looking after the interests of their industry or ngo. I don't have a problem with that. It is an integral part of liberal democracy.

I was very aware of the intimate links between the big greenhouse gas producing industries, the Federal Government and public officials. That is a political reality. S

o where is the concern? It seems to me that the influence exercised by the energy intensive induistries has crossed a line---they are sacrificing the public interest for the sake of the industry interest.

Consider this article in the Canberra Times.It states that there is a:

consistent pattern of collusion to promote fossil fuels and suppress renewable energy, by public officials, government, those who control CSIRO and the coal, aluminium, oil, electricity generation and motor industries.

What is troubling is this statement from a CSIRO employee:
In the late 1970s, CSIRO was a world leader in research into solar hot water, solar-efficient building design and bioenergy. At that time I was leader of a small group of CSIRO and other scientists working in Canberra on the integration of wind power into electricity grids.

There is no dumping coal in the renewable agenda It is working out how to integrate wind (and solar) power into the electricity grid. It makes sense for SA--as does sustainable and efficent building design to protect us from the summer heat.So what happens to this kind of research?
in the early 1980s, the Executive closed down all CSIRO research into renewable energy. Just to make sure that the wind power research was not continued "on the side", I was placed in a situation where I had little choice but to accept retrenchment.
The consequence:
CSIRO never recovered its eminence in renewable energy, but by the late 1990s it had recommenced a few modest projects in this forbidden field. Recently, the fossil fuel lobby, among those who control CSIRO, struck again. All renewable energy research was terminated again and the organisation's energy research was focused even more on the Federal Government's favoured "solution" to the enhanced greenhouse effect: the capture and burial of CO2 from coal-fired power stations, which is decades away from commercial application.
I'm not opposed to the latter--it is necessay.

But there is no need to close down research into renewable energy that integrates solar and wind power into the national electricity grid in the name of industry protection.

That kind of research is vital to SA's energy future---it is dump to import energy for peak demand periods in summer from thecoal fired power eastern states via a run down grid that loses power. Why not have more regionalised decentralised power sources that fed into the national electricity grid? What happens in Sydney or Brisbnae is different to waht happens ion Adelaide or Perth.

just plain dumb to curtail design into energy efficient house to help overcome the hot boxes that are being built in the inner city of Adelaide. These have nothing to do with sustainable living.

Irrespective of the causes of greenhouse gases and global warming the fossil fuel lobby stands condemned for its anti-competitive practices that close down research and industries that would benefit ordinary South Australians.

That is an example of crossing the line. What is good for the fossil fuel industy is not good for Australians.

Gary, while we may be far apart on the detail, we appear to be much less so in matters of principle. We are both against anti-competetive practices. But sadly, government has never really been with us on that. It allowed a wool monopoly to destroy the wool industry - and it still preserves a wheat monopoly. Government fulmination against anti-competetive practices is mostly hot air.

I spent much time lobbying for a free market for crude oil to replace the government-set posted price - and in the end got it, against the contra lobbying of many outside (and shamefully, inside)the oil industry. Now, I am not against renewables, only against such as the anti-competetive MREP which forces us - often without knowing it - to pay three times the going rate for electricity from bird-killing wind turbines for no known environmental benefit.

For 15 years I have been trying to get CSIRO and Met Bureau to acknowledge the existence of a Sun-Earth connection, as offering a more-plausible alternative to their (heart-felt, but utterly unscientific) hypothesis of benign pre-industrial stability - only now replaced by a people-driven climate. These two science-based organisations have fought like tigers to prevent the advancement of scientific understanding in a field for which government has given them a (largely tax-payer-funded) monopoly.

ABC (yet another tax-payer-funded body) missed the opportunity on its Four Corners program to give to its viewers even the slightest hint that the greenhouse story has two sides. What purpose then, did this story serve? And if we can't rely on ABC to exhibit a modicum of balance, what purpose does it serve?

Bob & Gary, I appreciate your comments about lobbying practices and getting a message across without stifling competition.

We (and our kids) will definitely see who is right about climate change over the coming 50-70 years.

The fossil fuel lobby effort from the eighties on (incl "lists" of scientists they procureded / made up) has probably made it too late to do anything anyway.

The simple physics of the greenhouse situation - near doubling of CO2/ CH4 etc in atmosphere mainly due to human activity;
historical record of prehistoric Co2 concentrations in the atmosphere being closely correlated to significant warming
very good 'attribution studies' showing that solar activity variance will not be the major driver of climate for the next 150+ years.

If (saturation advertising fed) consumption levels continue to grow as they are there is little hope unless for example a new highly effective solar energy collection system appears miraculously overnight to feed demand.

I was talking with a friend about a business trip to China he had taken early last year. They were driving on a new highway with 40 storey apartments on either side of the road for as far as you could see.

Their guide told them that just 6 years before this had all been rice paddys. (my friend researched and verified this).

There had been a town of 600,000 people now there is a city of 13 million. There had been a small fishing port, now there is the 5th largest container port in the world.

Most of the people living in the apartments are people from the country who have come to work for the electronics factories --- Sony, Samsung, LG and so on.

This rate of city growth is unsustainable but it is fueled by demand for the home entertainment systems and computers we have come to “need” every few years. That is global consumerism.

But few apart from those considered too 'way out' will put this forward as the real problem. Sensible economic changeover to low growth economics should be begun. Separate tax scales for that sector of economies which can be scientifically demonstrated to be sustainable could channel investment into such areas.

Growth economists will say you can't do such a stupid thing. (Economics is not a science however and we putting pure trust in the hands of those with little understanding of what really sustains us - climate, water, energy, support for food production etc)

Eonomics should be a tool for betterment of our situation not the reverse. We need to work out a changeover that will not cause collapse (On the other hand there is a high risk that Climate change and/ or "Peak Oil" will probably collapse everything before 2040 anyway).

Markets and mulitple layers of credit creation world economy is now a much too small based pyramid. This is versus the broad based pyramid which got us out of the 30s depression. To avoid collapse of the whole system, a false optomism needs promulgated constantly.

This is why the optomism of the 'we can do it without radical system change' of Tim Flannery types are unlikely to make a difference to the path of climate change.

On the other hand on an optomistic note I believe it is likely the US and Australia will join the Kyoto style approach within 3 years.

We do agree with the principle of a competitive economy and the failure of the Howard Government to foster competition in competitive markets. But do we agree in terms of energy and a national electricity market? That is not obvious.

It is not reasonable for you to state:

"Now, I am not against renewables, only against such as the anti-competetive MREP which forces us - often without knowing it - to pay three times the going rate for electricity from bird-killing wind turbines for no known environmental benefit"

without even mentioning the following:
# the massive subsidies and taxbreaks the fossil fuel industry currently receives;
# the failure of the fossil fuel industry to be accountable for the environmental externalities from its energy generation..

Nor is it reasonable to state

'we pay three times the going rate for electricity from bird-killing wind turbines for no known environmental benefit'.

The work I've seen is that currently wind energy costs around twice as much as energy from coal generation, and the cost of wind power and other renewables is falling.

Importantly, the cost of fossil fuel based energy does not factor in environmental costs and if these are to be imposed in the future (as seems likely), then the gap between wind and fossil fuel based energy will close rapidly.

The other point about no known benefit ignores that wind energy is clean energy in that it does not produce greenhouse gases in its production of energy--an important point surely.

Note the difference between us. I'm happy to keep coal going, to have research in geosequestration, and even to keep the subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. I point out the way that wind and solar power could help consumers in SA.

You on the other do not grant renewables anything by way of an energy role in Australia's energy mix. That is not a sign of engagement is it.

These are two kinds of policy advocacy and lobbying are they not?

We differ on more than the details.

Hi Rob,
There is an article in The Canberra Times by Gwynne Dyer on modernization and sustainablity in China. He says:

..all China wants for its citizens is the same lifestyle that most Western countries had achieved by's China's turn, and it's monstrously unfair that it cannot just follow the same development path [industrialization, urbanization, cars, electrical goods etc) that Britain first carved out in the late 1800s and, and all the rest of the West followed in the 1900s. But it can't.You cannot get away with that style of development any more when the world is already as damaged as it is now.

Why not? Dyer says that if the average global temperature went up by five degrees C then
None of China is habitable(above desert population densities) except Manchuria. None of India makes it either, except the foothills of the Himalayas,and none of the United States except the Pacific Northwest.

Development is going to have to be sustainable development; ie development that is sustainble in an ecological, and not just an economic, sense.

Thanks Gary - interesting article. Yes it will be a great challenge to achieve global levels of development that all see as fair and that is also sustainable.

That is the other side of globalisation - the communication has started - we can't hide our lifestyles from Indians and Africans any more.

I guess it takes a global discussion of what is fair and quality of life producing within the constraints of the planet. That is where Monbiot would say you need a representative democracy on a global scale.

A crucial factor I think is that when economic thinking was developed the environment really did seem to be a limitless externality - with so much resources you just didn't have to figure it into calculations.

The fact that we have run up against multiple environmental constraints already is an illustration of the nature of exponential growth -both in population and consumption (as a necessary provider of continual GDP growth).

Rob and Gary, Leaving oil industry subsidies and future climate for now, lets do China. I went there in 92-93 as a consultant to Asian Development Bank to do pricing policy for PRC oil, gas, LPG and electricity. Prices were kept very low, particularly that for gas. This was because it was the feedstock for ammonia fertiliser - which was vital for China's agriculture. The upshot was limited exploration for gas, and offgas from oil fields was often used on the fields. China needed gas piped to the cities to replace unhealthy coal-fired domestic heating - and there was little gas. I suggested a free market for all, and it was largely adopted. Fertiliser could then be shipped from gas-rich places abroad, and indigenous gas could be used as a clean fuel - and much higher prices meant more production. Similarly, higher electricity prices meant more capital investment, easing the chronic electricity electricity shortage.

China is growing its economy much faster than its population; and grindingly-poor people from the countryside are finding jobs in the export industries around the rapidly expanding cities. This seems a pretty good outcome to me.

Nevertheless, China must go nuclear. ADB put me in the nuclear engineering department of Tsinghua University (built in western style by the US with its Boxer reparations money). It had the best energy statistics in China; and was working on the development of the 'inherently-safe' high-temperature gas-cooled pebble-bed-reactor technology. The PRC government has just approved a feasibility study for construction by Huaneng Corp (a major electricity company)of a 200 MWe demonstration reactor. I bet they are excited at Tsinghua.

Hi Bob, yes markets are certainly efficient at directing resources. Also the Chinese are very cluey - just look at how long their empires have lasted vs USA 190?-20??. The chinese are being proactive on greenhouse within very difficult population / growth constraints.

Markets need to become more focussed on linking economic activity with environmental outcomes.

Eg Fixing up much of fossil fuel induced climate change won't be possible - therefore the cost saving in putting a real price (including future damage / insurance costs etc) on coal fired electricity ASAP has a nearly infinite cost benefit ratio but presently the market doesn't see that (the global insurance co actuaries are working on it!).

Also the market doesn't make any provision for extending the period resources can be used for (or climate will remain relatively stable) apart from by increasing the price for the resource and efficiently extracting the little that is left.

Caps and emmisions trading are proving to be successful - eg the large pig farms I used to manage on in Indonesia had Mitsui Corp (Japan) come and start a joint venture methane collection project the very week that the Kyoto protocol came into force.

To reach the 60% GHG reductions required by 2050 there will probably need to be a global price put on all carbon emissions.

If business is given suffient warning and the rate is ramped up quite slowly the economy will cope just as the Australian car industry has so far survived stage tarriff reductions.

Introduction of a carbon charge will probably just be seen as removal of "tarriffs" which are making global industry innefficient in terms of chanelling so much resources into circular (and rather pointless) consumerism.

Globally it is being shown once you get above a certain per capita income (10-15,000 US ?)more income and associated consumption does not increase quality of life indexes or make people more fulfilled.

Nuclear energy will become part of the mix however unless the new much more efficient reactors become the norm, high grade uranium ore stocks are limited and then you have to move to low grade stocks and don't really give much carbon emission saving in the whole process.

I believe that both the US and Australia will join Kyoto (or it sequel) within 2-3 years. I have heard that so many people in USA are pro Kyoto,even many republicans voters are for it and they think that Bush must be for it as well (!) The Liberals see that ratifying will take electoral wind out of labor's sails.

you write:

"China is growing its economy much faster than its population; and grindingly-poor people from the countryside are finding jobs in the export industries around the rapidly expanding cities. This seems a pretty good outcome to me."

And to me. China in recent years has lifted more people out of poverty than any other country in the world, any time, anywhere. That is very good news for China.

It's the future mode of that development that is the issue, isn't it, given China's chronic energy shortages. My argument is that in 2006 the ecological consequences need to be factored into economic development--something that the UK did not have to do in the 19th century. Ecology s not an add on--first you have the development, then you deal with the environmental externalities as in Australia.

It's economics plus ecology together. Does that mean China must go nuclear?

Hell I don't know. I do not have that kind of expertise. That kind of decision is up the Chinese.

I do know that geo[politics play a big part in all this. China is currently dependent on Iran for its energy (oil and gas), and that it will competes with the US for Middle Eastern and Eurasian oil to fuel its industrial machine. I also accept that it is in a bind re its energy security, given the perils to their interests by the United States' scripted strategy against Iran going nuclear.

What it does mean is that the Chinese market has to be directed to achieve--or avoid---particular kinds of outcomes. That would mean some kind of energy mix involving a transition from coal mining to importing gas. Plans to build more than 20 new nuclear power plants by 2020, would thereby doubling the role of nuclear power in China's overall energy supply---from 2 to 4 per cent.

Australia, which has 40 per cent of the world's uranium resources, stands to make a lot of money from supplying uranium for the Chinese nuclear programme.

Will the US approve Australia supplying uranium to China? Food for thought.

Some of the early comments alluded to changes in the Sun's situation having a significant effect on climate change. I noticed that the way this was stated could have left the reader under the misapprehension about the overwhelming role of greenhouse gases in climate change.

There is clear evidence, and consensus among the world’s most competent climate scientists, that the dominant cause of the dangerous current and future climate change is human greenhouse gas pollution. The solar effects while real are small in comparison. This was backed up by the 2001 IPCC reports and again in 2004 by the Max Planck Institute among others.

We need to start myth busting. Starting with our own public. When I get out and speak to people I regularly meet people who have been paralysed by myths about obstacles to reducing change. The regularly quoted myth is that either wind turbines or PV cells never payback the energy required to produce them.

In fact wind turbines have an incredibly hight energy profit ratio (EPR) and PVs have gone from payback periods of at worst 8 years to about 1.6 years. That produces a lot of energy profit over a life of 30 years plus. (And if production uses clean energy then the industry has zero greenhouse emissions).

Regarding nuclear power – it is the Cane Toad solution to climate change. It is too slow, it is too expensive and it produces other problems that it’s apologists keep claiming to have solved, but never have.

Every dollar spend on the nuclear Cane Toad is a lost opportunity to have a seven fold greater reduction of dangerous greenhouse gas by using clean options such and energy efficiency improvements. (See Rocky Mountains Institute).