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

The Critical Decade « Previous | |Next »
May 23, 2011

Australia's Climate Commission has just released its The Critical Decade is an update on what natural science is now telling us about climate change, and with regard to the underpinning it provides for the formulation of policy and the risks of a changing climate to Australia.


As Alan Kohler points out a key problem that Australia must solve is the use of brown coal in generating electricity. Around 79 per cent of the power sold into the National Electricity Market comes from burning coal and 27 per cent from brown coal. The brown coal alone produces 72 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is 13 per cent of the nation's emissions. At the barest minimum brown coal power generation needs to be phrased out.

My interest in the risks of a changing climate to Australia is with the rising sea levels. The report estimates these to rise to 2100 from 2000 to be 0.5 to 1.0 m, though it acknowledges there is significant uncertainty here due to the dynamics of large polar ice sheets, which are currently not well understood.

However, the report states that:

the impacts of rising sea-level are experienced through “high sea-level events” when a combination of sea-level rise, a high tide and a storm surge or excessive run-off trigger an inundation event. Very modest rises in sea-level, for example, 50 cm, can lead to very high multiplying factors – sometimes 100 times or more – in the frequency of occurrence of high sea-level events.

High sea level events are defined as high tides and storm surges and the risks are greater for inundation events, which damage human settlements and infrastructure in low-lying coastal areas, and can lead to erosion of sandy beaches and soft coastlines.

Various scenarios have been modelled by the Department of Climate Change and Efficiency.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:05 AM | | Comments (25)


Of all the capitol cities Sydney is going to be the most badly affected by rising sea levels, then Melbourne and Brisbane.

Abbott at the Ford plant in Geelong last week argued that the carbon tax would wipe out the car industry.

Kohler says that there needs to be some kind of specific government intervention to manage the transition from brown coal to gas:

there needs to be the "pull" of a higher electricity price to make gas profitable; the "push" of compensation for the brown coal generators to close, just as Telstra is being paid to switch off its copper network to make way for the next generation of networking; and gas reserves need to be reserved for domestic power generation.

He say that without the certainty of a clear, bipartisan plan, there will be no investment in electricity generation, and inevitable power shortages before the end of the decade.

What about the argument I hear just about every day...? The argument that says there's NO POINT in Australia implementing fancy policies, when our total carbon footprint is a fraction of the Chinese output.

(1) Australia is still responsible for addressing its own greenhouse emissions.

(2) Australia’s political discussion has been framed around the ways and means of reaching the bipartisan target of a 5 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020, with the implicit understanding that deeper cuts – be they for a 25 per cent reduction by 2020, or a 60-80 per cent cut by 2050 – can be deferred to the future.

"Australia is still responsible for addressing its own greenhouse emissions"

No argument from me, George. Also worth noting that out PER CAPITA output far outstips that of that of China.

But I am truly stumped when someone asks me why we should make sacrifices and hobble our industries... when any actual positive contribution from us will be minuscule.

"I am truly stumped when someone asks me why we should make sacrifices and hobble our industries."

hobble our industries? That sounds like industry speak.

Australia, like some other countries, is focusing on gas as a transitional technology to a low carbon economy.

The problem here is that the implications for the gas industry are that, unless deeper short-term targets are agreed upon now, its length of usefulness in reducing emissions may be curtailed dramatically.

Oh... it sounds like industry speak, eh?

Unfortunately, that's the ONLY language they speak in large chunks of our wide brown (coal) land.

Well, they could learn to think for themselves and start thinking in terms of co-generation plants. The banks are not going to loan money to power companies for new brown coal-fired power stations given the lack of investment in carbon capture and storage to enable it to become commercially available.

The industry language in the public sphere currently comes across the same as that of Big Tobacco denying the science that established tobacco causes human ill-health. It says we want to pollute, to hell with everyone else and technological innovation isn't our business.

Gas-fired co/generation is commonly identified as a critical climate change solution because it is the most effective and cost efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. More importantly, the technology is mature and can be deployed immediately.

Given that co-generation provides a path way for transformation of the power industry, then thinking for yourself would start to figure out what is required to make that happen.

Looks like it's time for full disclosure... just in case Gary and others think...

a)I'm being too negative.
b)I get my kicks out of playing devil's advocate.
c)I'm and industry shill; or
d)I'm just making shit up.

The fact of the matter is that I've spent almost all of my working life in Port Kembla.

So I have a fair idea of how Robinson Crusoe must have felt. Sensible "green" talk gets no traction around here.

Carbon pricing is a lost cause down this end of the swamp.

But Port Kembla is a steel works run by BlueScope Steel that sources the electricity it needs for manufacturing from the national grid and emitts 11.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases from direct production and electricity.

It is the Illawarra region's most significant polluter, and sits among the nation's top 10 greenhouse gas emitters. The list of the biggest polluters is dominated by coal-fired power. BlueScope is the second-biggest emitter of the non-power companies, after Alcoa. Its emissions keep on increasing not decreasing.

They could build a co-generation plant at Port Kemblawhich would capture waste gases for use in the steelworks.

However Blue Scope is deeply opposed to reform and deep into government subsidy to protect them. They have consistently painted a nightmare portrait in which Australian steel could become uncompetitive and business moved offshore and into the hands of the world's biggest polluters, China and India.

The increase in electricity prices and steel prices is going to come more from infrastructure investments to upgrade the network and the higher dollar than from a carbon price. Despite this BlueScope hasn't shown much initiative and foresight to implement a competitive business model for the future.

The union---its the Australian Workers Union whose national secretary is Paul Howes--- claims that a carbon price will mean the end of manufacturing, their jobs and the Illawarra region. They keep on calling for the steel industry to be exempt from 100 per cent of the carbon tax.

Barnaby Joyce won the day in the end. He said on the news today. "look yes the worlds getting warmer haha that blokes wearing a beanie"
What a classic.

Paul... the higher dollar, in the wake of the GFC... has already done a ton of damage. Never mind that the old plant and inefficient process cannot cannot compete with newer steelworks abroad. Ironic that some of there steelworks are actually Bluescope plants, eh?

But, the point is that a carbon price will be another nail in the coffin. Possibly the last one.

Quite the predicament.

Steel is going through a hard time at the moment, not because of carbon pricing, but from the high Australian dollar and high input costs caused by rising prices for ore and coking coal.

However, you don't hear much about innovation in the steel industry from Paul Howes. He's been consistently opposed to pricing carbon and in favour of nuclear power. Howes is about protection not innovation. He wants generous compensation for the aluminium, cement and glass sectors as well ---ie., ''backroom deals for rent seekers'.'

Howes speaks for the Right faction of the ALP, which has basically denied global warming, and does not see the tremendous jobs potential in building a new clean economy.

Abbott, has been busy whipping up worker resentment during recent visits to BlueScope at Port Kembla, and OneSteel in Victoria.

Barnaby Joyce is confused about the difference between climate and weather. As a regional populist he has no interest in understanding the difference.

Don't know how much difference "innovation" would make.... even IF the local mob could/would invest in it.

Steel production is a nasty, dirty process. It takes a lot of electricity and uses a loads of carbon (coal/coke) in the process itself. Not to mention the carbon produced in moving the raw materials and finished products about.

Quite the predicament.

you don't hear Paul Howes or One Steel talking about manufacturing steel for wind turbines and solar power array--its all a doom and gloom story from the union and corporate bosses. The reality of global capitalism is that if they don't innovate in a global market, then they go under.

"you don't hear Paul Howes or One Steel talking about manufacturing steel for wind turbines and solar power array..."

That line really isn't going to fly with the folks at BSL.

A couple of years ago, Kevin Rudd announced that Port Kembla would supply the steel to build Australia's new warships.

Maybe he had no idea about the production capacity of the steelworks... or maybe he did. The point is, a lot of people gritted their teeth to stop from laughing out loud. The amount steel Rudd was talking about could be produced (easily) in under a week.

No, I don't think some wind turbines, transmission towers and associated infrastructure is going to be seen as a rescue package.


I come from Whyalla [originally and I visit it frequently] which is the country cousin of Port Kembla and Newcastle in that the town is a virtual subsidiary of the iron and coal industry.
And 'tree huggin'/greeny/lets put a price on carbon/stop climate change" sentiments aka 'sensible green talk" gets a lot of traction here.
Despite the 'we'll all rooned' comments from some [note that word please] of the industry, and even in one exceptional case a union, reps there is an awareness that such are in the minority even in this town.
In fact the '07 and '11 campaigns in the town were highlighted by both the Greens and the ALP stressing the need for a carbon price and were well received by the public, even to the point of many in the public expecting the old [COALition] and new [ALP] governments to do more than just mere rhetoric.

The noise makers in the public are not necessarily the majority of the public as opinion polls show eg the latest ER poll which shows support for a tax on carbon is high.

Check out #3 on the poll list.

We are at the point now that not enough people care strongly enough to be a majority. The government appears to be more and more flogging a dead horse. Whether the science is right or wrong the majority isnt buying it. People fear rising prices in their already stretched budget and this government has not enough believability in the electorate for compensation to mean anything to them.
When the unions start siding with business against Labor....well the fat ladies on her way to the stage.

That's mildly encouraging stuff, Fred. But for now the "noise makers" have the stage to themselves.

Oh, and about that poll you mentioned. Quote: "But put the actual government policy – rather than the claims of the Opposition – in front of people, and the support levels are at strong levels."

Sadly, the ACTUAL government policy is beside the point. It's the fear and doubt that wins in my neighbourhood.

Mars08 says

No, I don't think some wind turbines, transmission towers and associated infrastructure is going to be seen as a rescue package.

Australian's think in terms of a rescue package for an embattled industry. The Germans think in terms of re-engineering their whole economy and exporting the goods and skills to people in other countries who need them in order to to make the shift to a low carbon economy.

The Germans think in terms of economic growth and increased employment through reducing greenhouse emissions. Malcolm Turnbull is one of the few Australian politicians who actually thinks in terms of the low carbon revolution being as transformative as the 19th century industrial revolution or the digital revolution of the 20th century.

Whereas Germany long ago established feed-in tariffs that reward consumers for producing renewable electricity and feeding their excess power into the grid, Australia is cutting back on their state based schemes.

Those who will lead in this long wave industrial transformation are Germany and China--it is not going to be the United States or Australia, even though the latter developed a lot of the intellectual property for the low carbon revolution.

I bet that BlueScope and Howe's Australian Workers Union are not working on what would be required for green jobs in science, technology, engineering and maths; and adapting their disciplines and manufacturing to meet climate change objectives (for example, flood defence engineering, or environmental clean-up technologies, or mass transit and high-speed rail link projects, or retrofiting buildings).

BlueScope and Howe's Australian Workers Union think in terms of a de-industrialisation of manufacturing scenario, not a building the power grids of the future scenario.

Gary... it's been primary industry (almost) all the way. That's how we prospered and that's how we'll decline. We don't know any other way.

But wait... oh... it's those sleazy boat people that are screwing things up! Damn them!

" it's been primary industry (almost) all the way. "

not really. The percentage contribution of agriculture, industry, and services to total GDP in 2010 is this:

agriculture: 4%
mining 5% of GDP
industry: 24.8%
services (including tourism, education and financial services): 71.2

Did you mean in terms of exports?

I think you overestimate the union influence.

The people I talk to on a daily basis probably wouldn't remember the last time they heard from the union.

No, I'm sure that their opinions are based entirely on what they get from the popular "regular" news sources. I'd don't think it would matter to them if the unions started cheering the carbon pricing scheme at the top of their lungs. The fear and doubt would still remain.