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

the question of coal « Previous | |Next »
February 23, 2011

The most serious carbon issue today is coal. To avert a disastrous climate change tipping point coal-fired plants must be rapidly phased out to protect the earth. Hence the need for a price on carbon to enable the market to drive energy change and bring down carbon pollution. Increasing the carbon price acts as an incentive for the low carbon investments.

James Fallows in Dirty Coal, Clean Future in The Atlantic (December 2010) argues that the only way to meet the world’s energy needs, and to arrest climate change before it produces irreversible cataclysm, is to use coal—dirty, sooty, toxic coal—in more-sustainable ways. The assumption here is that coal will be used in the future as a substitute for oil and gas when the latter's production has peaked and that new technologies (processing coal into liquid fuel; carbon capture and storage will secure the future of the coal industry's investments.

The immediate response is that the longer we pursue energy from coal instead of committing to renewable energy and reduced energy consumption, he emphasizes, the worse will be the economic and ecological costs and the less likely such a transition will be successful. Secondly, CCS technologies are unlikely to be developed enough to deploy before 2035 at the earliest; these are very expensive; and the peak of higher-quality coal reserves means the shift to lower-quality coal with the social and ecological costs this entails.

Climate policy can create opportunities for massive investment: to expand the supply of renewables; build the power grids of the future; develop the robotics and nanotechnology required for energy-efficient construction materials; facilitate the shift from coal to gas to renewables.

The naysayers--denialists--- say no to price increases on carbon whilst continuing to rely on energy from coal for economic growth. Their old de-industrialise and anti-growth argument seems to been forgotten. They now claim that a socio-political pathology surrounds Australian public policy on climate change.

Europe is on track to comfortably exceed its existing climate change targets of cutting emissions by 20% by 2020, and on current policies will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by that date.This means that without any extra effort, by 2020 Europe will be well within reach of the higher target of an emissions reduction of 30% which some member states, including the UK, are pushing for.

Australia, in contrast, does not have a low-carbon roadmap with respect to buildings, transport, agriculture etc. It has given up trying to position itself so that it can compete in the €3.5tn global market for low-carbon goods and services. The Gillard Government has foreshadowed a system that would start with a fixed price on carbon, followed by a move to a market-based system in several years.

With the Opposition set to vote against any market-based scheme, the Government will need the support of the Greens and the independents to get the legislation through Parliament. Reduction targets and compensation to industry are again expected to be the main stumbling blocks in negotiations.

The Gillard Government says that a carbon price scheme will be rolled out from July 2012 to begin the move to a clean energy future, The price on carbon would be fixed for a period of three to five years before moving to a cap-and-trade system. This outline of "the framework" is just the start of the process.

However, the starting price has not yet even been discussed, the household compensation package has not yet been discussed, support for emissions-intensive trade-exposed industry has not yet been discussed, the treatment of the energy sector has not yet been discussed.

So the fear campaign begins--the early talking points are that increased electricity prices that cannot be afforded.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:37 PM | | Comments (7)


It is possible to increase economic output while cutting emissions. Produce more does not mean you have to emit more. That was the 20th century business model.

Was it 4 Corners that did the thing on the Eastern states coal seam gas industry theother night?
Some crude stuff, looks the politicians will do gatekeeper for big energy companies, regardless of additional down stream problems that come from a more deregulated environment.
Any attempt to put pressure on them seems to create a reaction back.
In housing and contruction they seem to have a similar template, rush through approvals and hope they are got going before disguised errors can be identified and things closed down where damage is egregious.

why am I not surprised. The IPA is opposed to addressing climate change.
Alan Moran, their Director of Deregulation, says at Unleashed:

The losers are the ordinary citizens who are being coerced into providing funds to promote policies that will lower their living standards.

They are denialists who try to argue that:

(1) when moral righteousness overwhelms dispassionate and disinterested research, noble cause corruption takes hold.
(2) policymakers around the world have been dictated to by a handful of scientists who have shown themselves willing to fabricate evidence, destroy original data, and defeat public scrutiny.

They are the think tank voice of the coal industry.

The IPA are denialists because they say that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been unable to demonstrate that anything that has so far happened to the earth's temperature is not part of normal climatic variation.

This claim is based on the views of Professor Bob Carter an Emeritus Fellow of the Institute of Public Affairs

I missed the Four Corners program --The Gas Rush.

Scanning the transcript I see that Mathew Carney argued that Australia gas companies are drilling down through the earth to extract the resource that the the coal seam gas industry industry says will be one of the answers to our future energy needs. It's mostly happening Queensland--the coal state--and the industrial infrastructure is crisscrossing some of the state's prime farming land.

This may amuse you.

A few days ago ABC Radio National did a report on tobacco, the tobacco companies and plain packaging.
Near the end of the programme an IPA fella quoted a government or major NGO [not sure which] which said nasty things about plain packaging.
The report and the IPA's quoting were highly specific.
Plain packaging [or whatever subset of that issue was the precise focus of the report] was NOT good.

The ABC, gor bless their little cotton socks, then, after the IPA had had its little spiel, got the boss man of the NGO to comment.
Short version:
the IPA was wrong....deliberately and deceptively so.

They were left with mud on their face several inches deep.
Not for the first time.

I'll try to get a transcript.

The key point is this:
"IP Australia [Intellectual Property] can confirm that the claims made by the Institute of Public Affairs are incorrect and misleading."

Its about 80% of the way down.

The tactics of Big Coal follow that of the Big Tobacco--deny the evidence and create lots of noise.

I see that Tim Wilson from the IPA, which has accepted money from Big Tobacco, says that:

I believe in free markets, I believe in a free society, individual choice and responsibility, and I think that's the best way to achieve public health outcomes, but increasingly governments around the world are choosing regulation as a mechanism to deal with public health problems instead of encouraging individual choice.

He adds that there are times when governments can ably assist with public health. For instance, when we have pandemics or epidemics that occur and we desperately need immediate, prompt assistance from a centralised position.

So he's not that concerned that smoking kills people through cancer; or that they become addicted and so find it hard to exercise individual choice. 75% of Australian men smoked in the '50s. This is now below, it's about 17% now. So it's a major, major public health success.

Public health is political as it is about winning over people and changing public opinion.