Sep 04 2018

Surprise energy announcement!

https://mothersagainstwindturbines.com/2014/06/16/wind-industry-is-a-job-thief-not-a-job-creator/

Precarious Climate can exclusively reveal surprising announcements made last week in a speech by Angus Taylor, Australia’s new Minister for Getting Electricity Prices Down. The media reported on only the first half of his speech, leaving out the unexpected turn he took toward the end.

“My first and only priority is to reduce power prices,” Taylor began. “And to do this while keeping the lights on.

“Focusing relentlessly on price while keeping the lights on will require some truthtelling. There will be no ideology, no grand gestures one way or another, just a simple, pragmatic focus on the solutions.

“The reason for this focus is to help people, families, small and family businesses make ends meet, and to help industry create new jobs. Prices are no longer sustainable – for families, for pensioners, for businesses.”

This firm declaration from the new Minister was met with loud applause from government supporters.

“Before I outline the direction of this new Government,” Taylor continued. “I wish to address four points about what motivates me in this area.

“First, we need to recognise that sharp increases in retail electricity prices has eroded the trust of Australians in the capacity of government and politicians to deliver affordable, reliable energy. Because of a failure to focus on the basics the electricity sector, like the banks, needs to re-establish its credibility or social licence with the community.”

Junior party members stood behind the Minister, solemnly nodding along with his every word.

“Secondly,” Taylor insisted. “I am not sceptical about climate science, but I am and have been for many years deeply sceptical of the economics of so many of the emissions reductions schemes dreamed up by vested interests, technocrats and politicians around the world.

“I am a lover of the environment. My family has continually changed farming practices to reflect the changing climate, particularly in recent years.

“But none of my concerns justify supporting expensive programmes that deliver little else other than funnel consumers’ hard-earned money into vested interests resulting in increased prices and reduced reliability. In good conscience, I simply can’t support the hard-earned wages of Australians being siphoned off into these sorts of schemes.”

Standing next to Taylor, the new Prime Minister Scott Morrison grinned proudly at how closely Taylor was adhering to his vision.

“Thirdly,” the Minister continued, “I see a strong role for commercially viable renewables. My grandfather was chief engineer of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, Australia’s greatest renewable scheme, a scheme that has done more to reduce emissions than any other project in Australian history.

“Renewables are in my blood, and have been from the day I was born. Like many others in regional Australia, we use solar technology on the farm where we live.”

There was scattered polite applause at this statement. It was expected that the Minister give lip service to climate change and renewable energy to keep the public happy.

“Finally,” said Taylor. “As a Liberal, I am not a strong believer in heavy-handed government intervention. It would be marvellous if we could fix these problems by leaving the industry alone.

”But we are well past that point. This is a sector now characterised by heavy-handed government intervention. Poorly conceived interventions in the past leave us no choice but to make interventions if we’re going to get things back on track quickly.

“There has been a lot of talk in recent months about increasing investment certainty for the electricity sector. Frankly, I think there is some naivety in the idea that governments can largely eliminate uncertainty, or should even try. Parliaments or governments can’t bind future parliaments and governments – this would be a breach of the fundamental principle of parliamentary sovereignty.”

Taylor was finally ready to announce the new government’s policy.

“Our policy in this area is sharply differentiated from Labor and we make no apology for that,” he said to more applause, cheers, and cries of “hear, hear”.

The unexpected turn

But then the Minister’s press conference took an unexpected turn, and his colleagues’ approval turned to concern.

“Because of all the reasons I have just listed,” said Taylor. “My energy policy will pursue a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy for Australia.”

The Prime Minister looked shocked. “What? But I thought we agreed our goal is to reduce power prices, not to cut emissions!”

“That’s right,” said Taylor. “Renewables are the best way to achieve a future of lower power prices. Renewable energy prices are plummeting as the technologies improve, while fossil fuels will get ever more expensive as they become ever more difficult to cheaply extract. Renewables will also help keep the lights on, as coal-fired generators have trouble coping with demand spikes during heatwaves. The renewable energy industry will create new jobs too.

“And as power prices fall, restoring trust in the electricity sector, that will help create political support for cutting pollution.

“All that is true regardless of whether you’re sceptical about climate science, which I’ve just clarified I’m not. I also just explained why I was so skeptical of all the past emissions reduction programs – because they favored a particular set of industries. When Labor were in government they showered fossil fuel companies with free pollution permits.

“Likewise the previous Prime Minister’s programs, whether it was the Emissions Reduction Fund, Emissions Intensity Scheme, Clean Energy Target, or National Energy Guarantee, have done little more than funnel government money to fossil fuel companies. I opposed the NEG because it was trying to strangle the growth of the unfavored set of technologies. It threatened to halt investment in renewable energy between 2020 and 2030, although renewables are now the most commercially viable energy technologies and may supply 50% of our electricity by 2030 even if we do nothing.

“The previous Prime Minister’s latest change to the NEG, removing the emissions standard, made it even more protective of his favorites. It would have effectively underwritten new fossil fuel generators. He even announced a last resort power, to force companies to divest fossil fuel assets rather than retire them. We definitely won’t be doing that – we’ll scrap the NEG and go back to the drawing board to design an entirely pro-renewable energy policy.

“Those failed climate policies are just some of the fossil fuel subsidies we now need to correct through new interventions. The fossil fuel sector is propped up by $11 billion in annual subsidies to facilitate and attract fossil fuel investment, from the fuel tax credit scheme to fringe benefit tax exemptions to aviation tax concessions. Adani even wants us to fund their rail line and allow them to destroy the Great Barrier Reef.”

At this point, the Prime Minister seized the microphone and sacked Taylor on the spot, saying he had failed to understand his job and the announced policy was a mistake.

“My sincerest apologies to the Minerals Council of Australia, Chevron, Wesfarmers, Origin Energy, Woodside, and Santos,” said Morrison. “I hope this will not dissuade you from continuing to donate to the party of the free market.”

The quotes before the “unexpected turn” are the actual words of the real Australian Energy Minister Angus Taylor (here’s the real speech I’m satirizing). Of course, the real Taylor was arguing against cutting emissions on the basis that high power prices have been caused by government intervention to subsidize renewable energy. If he was honest, he would admit his own words argue against that position. Fossil fuels are now the more expensive energy source, and the government’s stated free market ideology is a fraud – in reality the government intervenes to protect established industries and throttle new ones that threaten them.

Aug 24 2018

Could Prime Minister Morrison really make anything worse?

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-09/scott-morrison-holds-a-lump-of-coal-in-parliament/8256064

Events have overtaken the article I posted earlier today.  The latest leadership challenge spectacle in Australian politics has delivered the top job in the conservative Liberal/National government to neither the incumbent Malcolm Turnbull nor the challenger Peter Dutton. It turns out the new Prime Minister is Scott Morrison. Turnbull was supposedly a moderate out of step with his party, Dutton was supposedly a far-right populist, and Morrison apparently represents a compromise between those two warring factions.

Regardless, my overall message has not changed. Sure, the new PM could obliterate what little is left of Australian climate policy after the damage done by his precedessors. But it’s not like he can make things much worse than they already are.

Like Dutton, Morrison has been a senior minister in the government. He has been variously Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Minister for Social Services, and most recently Treasurer. In other words, Morrison has been at the forefront of some of the government’s worst agendas – promoting investment in the fossil fuel industry, persecuting refugees, and increasing economic inequality. He is also very Christian and still opposes same-sex marriage and LGBT-related curricula. Morrison is notorious for having brought a lump of coal into Parliament after a blackout during a heatwave, holding it up and saying “This is coal. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared.”

His new deputy Josh Frydenberg also held the lump of coal. Frydenberg has been Turnbull’s Minister for the Environment and Energy. He recently failed to respond to the following question asked in Parliament by Greens MP Adam Bandt: “Has his department considered the implications for policy-making of climate change being an existential risk to human civilisation?” Frydenberg has overseen the design and selling of Turnbull’s worse-than-nothing climate policy – hence why the new PM cannot make things much worse.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/brandishing-coal-in-a-heatwave-scott-morrison-might-as-well-fiddle-as-australia-suffers-an-energy-crisis-20170212-gubasj.html

Postmortem on the Turnbull government

By coincidence, the previous run of my blog petered out around the time that Turnbull successfully challenged his predecessor Tony Abbott. It’s worth remembering that at the time many environmentalists, left-wingers, and casual observers supported Turnbull, believing he would stand by his previously stated conviction to climate action. I argued against that consensus, often finding myself the only Turnbull critic in a room full of Turnbull fans. I pointed out Turnbull had never supported any climate policy that wasn’t friendly to the fossil fuel industry, and even if he had the best intentions he would have to pander to his less green colleagues and to the big corporations who appear to pretty much run the world.

Three years later, I think it’s fair to say my prediction has been vindicated. The Turnbull government’s climate and energy policy has gone through a confusing series of incarnations – from an “Emissions Reduction Fund”, to an “Emissions Intensity Scheme”, to a “Clean Energy Target”, to the current “National Energy Guarantee” (NEG). Each has been a different variant of slush fund for big polluters (funny how the Liberals’ “free market” principle doesn’t apply to big business).

The “National Energy Guarantee” is supposedly designed to address an alleged crisis of power price rises and blackouts. In reality, it is fossil fuels that will get ever more expensive as the fuels become more difficult to cheaply extract from the Earth; renewable energy prices are actually coming down. Electricity price rises are occuring mainly because of price gouging by the energy companies, who are gaming Australia’s complex partially-privatized oligopolistic electricity grid. As for blackouts, they are rare and generally caused by inflexible fossil fuel generators being unable to cope with sudden demand spikes in heatwaves which, ironically, are increasing due to climate change. In any case, the government and mainstream media have sold the NEG as a compromise balancing the important priority of addressing the fake energy crisis against the preservation of the planet we all depend on.

The NEG requires a certain amount of “dispatchable” energy to be ready to go at any time, and before this week it included an emissions criterion ostensibly consistent with Australia’s useless target under the Paris Agreement, 26% below 2005 by 2030. In reality, the government’s own modeling shows the NEG is intended to lock in no change from 2021-2030:

Source: https://www.facebook.com/ActOnClimateVic/photos/a.182534635547269/462349474232449/?type=3&theater

The NEG is not only worse than nothing as a climate policy, but one might wonder how this lack of change is even supposed to reduce electricity prices. Indeed, leaked modeling showed that most of the projected electricity price reductions would come from the renewable energy installed before 2021 to meet the Renewable Energy Target, in spite of the NEG!

For a moment it looked like this fraud of a policy might pass with the support of Labor, finally delivering the wonderful “stable bipartisan moderate compromise” we’ve had dangled in front of our noses for the past decade, to be opposed only by the Greens and the far-right faction of the government. Fortunately, there has been a revolt from both extremes of politics. The Greens, the renewable energy lobby, and various petitions from the public have successfully persuaded the Labor states to oppose the NEG, while the conservatives within Turnbull’s party have continued to insist it doesn’t go far enough.

During the leadership turmoil this week, Turnbull removed the emissions criterion from the NEG legislation. Now the NEG is aimed entirely at energy reliability and will underwrite new “dispatchable” power plants without regard for their emissions – and “dispatchable” appears to be a codeword for coal. Although Treasurer Scott Morrison claims the tender process will be “technology neutral”, National Party deputy leader Bridget McKenzie said at a recent press conference: “I am not afraid to say the c-word, coal, coal, coal. It’s going to be one of those areas that we are going to invest in.”

But no matter how much Turnbull concedes to even the dirtiest of fossil fuel industries, the right-wing of his party have continued to demand still more concessions. It was in large part climate policy which brought down every Prime Minister who has fallen in the last 11 years, and climate is again a major factor that has brought down Turnbull and elevated Morrison.

What little climate policy remains to be destroyed?

There is not much of a climate policy left for Morrison to destroy. He could take an axe to the 2020 Renewable Energy Target, and withdraw Australia from the Paris climate agreement. Still, the National Energy Guarantee is already designed to stop renewable energy deployment just after 2020.  And the Paris Agreement was a sham anyway, an unforceable piece of paper advertising targets that governments claim they will meet. The Australian government already has no climate policy sufficient to reach the target it signed up to in Paris. In short, Morrison’s administration will be not much different to the direction in which the government was already going.

I do fear the government’s policies will continue to get worse, but I think that would have happened regardless of who was chosen as figurehead. I’m losing count of how many Prime Ministers I’ve seen come and go, but no matter how many times the face changes, I’m yet to see much real political change in Australia or indeed the world. What scares me most is the status quo.

If (and “if” is an important word here because we don’t know what Morrison will be like as PM) the battlelines are between the populist right-wing and the neoliberal capitalist establishment, I’m not particularly on either side and I’m certainly not on the side of the establishment. If anything, the populists might do some good by shaking up the system. Although the populist right is radically opposed to climate action, they are introducing an element of chaos into today’s political landscape, and that instability might eventually create the space for the radical climate action we need. At the very least, as those who openly oppose any climate action get into power, they undermine any false sense of security that governments have the climate crisis under control.

Indeed, by fighting every fraudulent “moderate compromise”, the conservatives have become so needlessly extreme they have undermined the prospect of investment certainty for the fossil fuel industry they are tripping over each other to defend. It is almost comical to watch. No wonder the business lobby has come out swinging against the investment-damaging “instability”. But there can be no political stability until the big problems like climate change are solved, which can only occur against the will of the business lobby.

The political pantomime vs the climate emergency

The current climate policy spectrum is in my opinion best understood as having little to do with actually saving the planet, and a lot more to do with the varying interests of different businesses. At the brown end of the spectrum, the coal industry is losing profitability and increasingly isolated politically, so its cause is increasingly taken up by right-wing populists who claim they can bring back the coal jobs, and climate change denial is taking on a life of its own beyond the corporate propaganda purpose that it once served. It is now in the interests of most businesses, even many fossil fuel businesses, to rhetorically acknowledge climate change, claim to be taking steps to reduce their impact, and support policies which open up new investment opportunities in renewable energy, carbon trading, and the supposedly “low-carbon” natural gas. At the green end of the spectrum, the increasing wealth and power of renewable energy corporations has helped to push reluctant politicians toward moderately better energy policies (though this has largely failed in Australia).

But it is still not in the interests of any business invested in fossil fuels to support a real effort to drastically reduce emissions, which requires phasing out fossil fuel burning. Nor, to a lesser extent, is it truly in the interests of any business – not even the renewable energy ones – because all businesses seek to grow, a goal fundamentally at odds with reducing their environmental footprint. So don’t believe those in the mainstream media who claim that if only the good “left-wing” politicians prevail in Parliament, or if only the “moderates” of “both parties” come together to craft a bipartisan policy, we’ll get an effective climate policy or even a stable “compromise”. In reality, none of the currently powerful political factions will save us, because they represent the institutions that have created and perpetuated the climate crisis (among other crises).

The emissions reduction policies of governments across the supposed political spectrum are falling far short of the actions scientists are calling for with increasing boldness. More and more scientists are coming out and saying we are in a climate emergency. German climatologist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber recently released a paper outlining how a series of amplifying feedbacks could lead to a “hothouse Earth” and calling for governments to halve global emissions each decade. Schellnhuber says in the foreword to a new report by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration:

“Climate change is now reaching the endgame, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences. Therefore, it is all the more important to listen to non-mainstream voices who do understand the issues and are less hesitant to cry wolf. Unfortunately for us, the wolf  may already be in the house.”

Shellnhuber’s Australian coauthor Will Steffen said in an interview:

“The obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics…

We need to immediately stop deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and other tropical forests, and start reforesting them. That means a U-turn in terms of how we operate the world’s economic systems. The only way you’re going to change that is if you actually change value systems, perhaps even changing the way political systems operate and so on. The social scientists in our group have said this really is a fundamental change in human societies we need to have if we’re going to solve this problem…

Absolutely no new fossil fuel developments. None. That means no new coal mines, no new oil wells, no new gas fields, no new unconventional gas fracking. Nothing new. Second, you need to have a rapid phase-out plan for existing fossil fuels…

[We need] a completely different view of economics, going away from viewing the natural world as resources to viewing it as an essential piece of our life support system that needs to be maintained and enhanced. I think you simply have to go right back to the fundamental science of who we are, the planet we evolved into, how that planet operates and what’s happening to it, and that will tell you immediately that so-called neoliberal economics is radically wrong in terms of how it views the rest of the world.”

All in all, my opinion is pretty much summed up by the following cartoon from First Dog on the Moon, to which I will give the final word:

Aug 24 2018

Could Prime Minister Dutton really make anything worse?

I feel like politics is becoming increasingly bizarre, where nothing is ever as it seems and I am unsure which if any of the presented “sides” I am on. This is true for the latest leadership challenge spectacle now occuring in Australian politics. By the time you read this, we will know whether Peter Dutton has been successful in challenging Malcolm Turnbull for the leadership of the conservative Liberal/National government.

My inbox is flooded with hysterical campaign emails (from the Labor and Greens parties, GetUp!, and various environmental NGOs) begging for donations and suchlike, by trying to scare me about how Dutton will take Australia “to the hard right”. They tend to compare Dutton challenge to Brexit and Trump. I doubt Dutton is as important as Brexit or Trump, but either way I’m nowhere near as afraid of Dutton as I’m being told to be (nor am I as frightened of Brexit and Trump as most left-wingers are, but that’s another blog post).

Sure, Dutton is scary. He apparently wants to obliterate what little is left of Australian climate policy after the damage done by his precedessors. He was once caught joking to Tony Abbott that “Time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door”, which to me suggests he understands full well that climate change is real and doesn’t care. But it’s not like Dutton could make things much worse than they already are.

It has also not escaped my attention that, in contrast to past leadership spills in which the business lobby has usually supported the challenger and their proposed policies, this time the business lobby has come out swinging against the investment-damaging “instability”. But there can be no political stability until the big problems like climate change are solved, which can only occur against the will of the business lobby. What scares me most is the status quo.

Turnbull vs Dutton

By coincidence, the previous run of my blog petered out around the time that Turnbull successfully challenged his predecessor Tony Abbott. It’s worth remembering that at the time many environmentalists, left-wingers, and casual observers supported Turnbull, believing he would stand by his previously stated conviction to climate action. I argued against that consensus, often finding myself the only Turnbull critic in a room full of Turnbull fans. I pointed out Turnbull had never supported any climate policy that wasn’t friendly to the fossil fuel industry, and even if he had the best intentions he would have to pander to his less green colleagues and to the big corporations who appear to pretty much run the world.

Three years later, I think it’s fair to say my prediction has been vindicated. The Turnbull government’s climate and energy policy has gone through a confusing series of incarnations – from an “Emissions Reduction Fund”, to an “Emissions Intensity Scheme”, to a “Clean Energy Target”, to the current “National Energy Guarantee” (NEG). Each has been a different variant of slush fund for big polluters (funny how the Liberals’ “free market” principle doesn’t apply to big business).

The “National Energy Guarantee” is supposedly designed to address an alleged crisis of power price rises and blackouts. In reality, it is fossil fuels that will get ever more expensive as the fuels become more difficult to cheaply extract from the Earth; renewable energy prices are actually coming down. Electricity price rises are occuring mainly because of price gouging by the energy companies, who are gaming Australia’s complex partially-privatized oligopolistic electricity grid. As for blackouts, they are rare and generally caused by inflexible fossil fuel generators being unable to cope with sudden demand spikes in heatwaves which, ironically, are increasing due to climate change. In any case, the government and mainstream media have sold the NEG as a compromise balancing the important priority of addressing the fake energy crisis against the preservation of the planet we all depend on.

The NEG requires a certain amount of “dispatchable” energy to be ready to go at any time, and before this week it included an emissions criterion ostensibly consistent with Australia’s useless target under the Paris Agreement, 26% below 2005 by 2030. In reality, the government’s own modeling shows the NEG is intended to lock in no change from 2021-2030:

The NEG is not only worse than nothing as a climate policy, but one might wonder how this lack of change is even supposed to reduce electricity prices. Indeed, leaked modeling showed that most of the projected electricity price reductions would come from the renewable energy installed before 2021 to meet the Renewable Energy Target, in spite of the NEG!

For a moment it looked like this fraud of a policy might pass with the support of Labor, finally delivering the wonderful “stable bipartisan moderate compromise” we’ve had dangled in front of our noses for the past decade, to be opposed only by the Greens and the far-right faction of the government. Fortunately, there has been a revolt from both extremes of politics. The Greens, the renewable energy lobby, and various petitions from the public have successfully persuaded the Labor states to oppose the NEG, while the conservatives within Turnbull’s party have continued to insist it doesn’t go far enough.

During the leadership turmoil this week, Turnbull removed the emissions criterion from the NEG legislation. Now the NEG is aimed entirely at energy reliability and will underwrite new “dispatchable” power plants without regard for their emissions – and “dispatchable” appears to be a codeword for coal. Although Treasurer Scott Morrison claims the tender process will be “technology neutral”, National Party deputy leader Bridget McKenzie said at a recent press conference: “I am not afraid to say the c-word, coal, coal, coal. It’s going to be one of those areas that we are going to invest in.”

But no matter how much Turnbull concedes to even the dirtiest of fossil fuel industries, the right-wing of his party have continued to demand still more concessions. It’s almost comical to watch them become so needlessly extreme they undermine the prospect of investment certainty for the fossil fuel industry they are tripping over each other to defend. It was in large part climate policy which brought down every Prime Minister who has fallen in the last 11 years, and climate is again a major reason why Dutton has emerged as a contender – though there is not much of a climate policy left for him to destroy.

The political pantomime vs the climate emergency

The emissions reduction policies of governments across the supposed political spectrum are falling far short of the actions scientists are calling for with increasing boldness. More and more scientists are coming out and saying we are in a climate emergency. German climatologist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber recently released a paper outlining how a series of amplifying feedbacks could lead to a “hothouse Earth” and calling for governments to halve global emissions each decade. Schellnhuber says in the foreword to a new report by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration:

“Climate change is now reaching the endgame, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences. Therefore, it is all the more important to listen to non-mainstream voices who do understand the issues and are less hesitant to cry wolf. Unfortunately for us, the wolf  may already be in the house.”

Shellnhuber’s Australian coauthor Will Steffen said in an interview:

“The obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics…

We need to immediately stop deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and other tropical forests, and start reforesting them. That means a U-turn in terms of how we operate the world’s economic systems. The only way you’re going to change that is if you actually change value systems, perhaps even changing the way political systems operate and so on. The social scientists in our group have said this really is a fundamental change in human societies we need to have if we’re going to solve this problem…

Absolutely no new fossil fuel developments. None. That means no new coal mines, no new oil wells, no new gas fields, no new unconventional gas fracking. Nothing new. Second, you need to have a rapid phase-out plan for existing fossil fuels…

[We need] a completely different view of economics, going away from viewing the natural world as resources to viewing it as an essential piece of our life support system that needs to be maintained and enhanced. I think you simply have to go right back to the fundamental science of who we are, the planet we evolved into, how that planet operates and what’s happening to it, and that will tell you immediately that so-called neoliberal economics is radically wrong in terms of how it views the rest of the world.”

The current climate policy spectrum is in my opinion best understood as having little to do with actually saving the planet, and a lot more to do with the varying interests of different businesses. At the brown end of the spectrum, the coal industry is losing profitability and increasingly isolated politically, so its cause is increasingly taken up by right-wing populists who claim they can bring back the coal jobs, and climate change denial is taking on a life of its own beyond the corporate propaganda purpose that it once served. It is now in the interests of most businesses, even many fossil fuel businesses, to rhetorically acknowledge climate change, claim to be taking steps to reduce their impact, and support policies which open up new investment opportunities in renewable energy, carbon trading, and the supposedly “low-carbon” natural gas. At the green end of the spectrum, the increasing wealth and power of renewable energy corporations has helped to push reluctant politicians toward moderately better energy policies (though this has largely failed in Australia).

But it is still not in the interests of any business invested in fossil fuels to support a real effort to drastically reduce emissions, which requires phasing out fossil fuel burning. Nor, to a lesser extent, is it truly in the interests of any business – not even the renewable energy ones – because all businesses seek to grow, a goal fundamentally at odds with reducing their environmental footprint. So don’t believe those in the mainstream media who claim that if only the good “left-wing” politicians prevail in Parliament, or if only the “moderates” of “both parties” come together to craft a bipartisan policy, we’ll get an effective climate policy or even a stable “compromise”. In reality, none of the currently powerful political factions will save us, because they represent the institutions that have created and perpetuated the climate crisis (among other crises).

Dutton: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Which brings me to the latest character in the parliamentary pantomime, Peter Dutton. Just as I was relatively unmoved by the left’s hope for Turnbull, I likewise find myself relatively unmoved by their fear of Dutton. I do share their fear that the government’s policies will continue to get worse, but I think that will happen regardless of whether the conservatives succeed in installing Dutton or continue to drag Turnbull their way. I’m losing count of how many Prime Ministers I’ve seen come and go, but no matter how many times the face changes, I’m yet to see much real political change in Australia or indeed the world.

If (and “if” is an important word here because Dutton is largely an unknown quantity) the battlelines are between the populist right-wing and the neoliberal capitalist establishment, I’m not particularly on either side and I’m certainly not on the side of the establishment. If anything, the populists might do some good by shaking up the system – there is a reason why the business lobby fears any destabilization of the precarious current order. Although the populist right is radically opposed to climate action, they are introducing an element of chaos into today’s political landscape, and that instability might eventually create the space for the radical climate action we need. At the very least, as those who openly oppose any climate action get into power, they undermine any false sense of security that governments have the climate crisis under control.

Already, Dutton’s few proposed policy changes are a mix of the bad, the maybe-not-so-bad, and the actually-rather-good.

Let’s start with the actually-rather-good. Dutton wants an inquiry into the energy companies. I would welcome such an inquiry, as I believe it would reveal the energy companies are price-gouging and this is the real primary cause of the price rises that are being blamed on renewable energy and climate policy. Dutton also proposes tax cuts for households and small businesses to replace the government’s corporate tax cuts (another policy on which Turnbull has already capitulated this week), another reason why the big business groups are against Dutton.

Also energy-related is a maybe-not-so-bad Dutton proposal is to remove the Goods and Services Tax from energy bills. On one hand, to remove the GST on only energy would effectively be like a reverse carbon tax, incentivizing people to spend more money on energy relative to other products that are still taxed. On the other hand, reducing the GST might be another good idea on the economic justice front – the GST is not a progressive tax, which is probably why the business lobby has come out against Dutton’s GST proposal too.

In any case, Dutton’s proposals suggest he might genuinely want to reduce energy prices in addition to trashing climate policy, rather than just using energy prices as an excuse to trash climate policy like Abbott and Turnbull have done. If Dutton succeeds in reducing the prices, it might have the side-effect of making voters more in favour of climate policy although Dutton personally isn’t.

Definitely terrible policy ideas Dutton is flirting with include withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement and allocating more water from the Murray-Darling Basin to agriculture. In fact these policies are contradictory in the long term, since if we don’t cut greenhouse gas emissions we can expect the Murray-Darling Basin to pretty much dry up over the coming decades. Still, the Paris Agreement was a sham anyway, an unforceable piece of paper advertising targets that governments claim they will meet, and the Australian government already has no climate policy sufficient to reach the target it signed up to in Paris. Dutton could also take an axe to the 2020 Renewable Energy Target, but Abbott has already reduced the target, and Turnbull’s NEG is already designed to stop renewable energy deployment just after 2020.

In short, Dutton’s proposals are not much different to the direction in which the government was already going. For other issues beyond climate change, it’s a similar story – the policies are already pretty bad, and a leadership change isn’t likely to make it much worse. For example, to those who fear Dutton will be like Trump on immigration, I would point out that Trump’s policy of imprisoning refugees in camps is something Australia has already been doing for 25 years.

All in all, my opinion is pretty much summed up by the following cartoon from First Dog on the Moon, to which I will give the final word:

 

Feb 16 2018

Bendigo Climate Drawdown Summit

Date: Thursday 22-February 2018
Time: 7pm – 9pm

The international Drawdown organisation is a group of qualified and experienced researchers from around the world to identify, research, and model the 100 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change.

See you there.

Place: Ulumbarra Theatre, Gaol Road, Bendigo
General Admission: $32.65
Concession: $22.45

Grab your tickets today!
http://bit.ly/2DhBZgj

 

 

Jun 16 2017

The Paris Agreement was a sham anyway

Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement has been condemned by a surprisingly united chorus of political and corporate elites. The mainstream media narrative is that the world was progressing toward solving climate change, and now only Trump is standing in the way.

But this narrative doesn’t make sense. Why are the condemnations of Trump’s withdrawal coming even from those who have spent decades lobbying against climate action, such as ExxonMobil and the Australian government? If the Paris Agreement was really so great for the climate, wouldn’t they be totally supportive of Trump?

In one way Trump is better than all the other elites condemning him: his policy is honest. I mean, his claims that the Paris Agreement will harm Americans and his past claims that global warming is a hoax are either dishonest or misguided, after we’ve just experienced three record hot years in a row despite a cold sun. Yet he is honest that he does not care to address the threat; that his policy is to let the world burn. The others profess to believe in climate change, but are failing to adequately address it – because what they’re not telling you is that the Paris Agreement was never much to write home about.

Read on for the top 10 problems with the Paris Agreement. Continue reading

Jul 01 2016

Australian election: say no to the polluting major parties

It’s difficult to muster much enthusiasm for another election. It’s clear that neither of the major parties will act in the public interest. Still, it’s the one time in three years when we get a say about the future of our country, so here’s how I’ll be voting and you should too.

The most pressing issue facing Australia and the world is human-caused global warming. In 2015, atmospheric CO2 reached 400 ppm, the highest level in around 15 million years, and global temperature exceeded 1°C above preindustrial, around the warmest in 10,000 years. 2016 is on track to be even hotter, with February hitting a record-smashing 1.95°C above preindustrial. Coral reefs around the world are dying, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The rate at which human activity is changing the Earth’s climate is without precedent since the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. We are already experiencing increasing extreme weather costing human lives and record-drought-driven war in Syria. Worse, we are already passing several tipping points which will amplify carbon emissions and warming, and flood island nations and agricultural river deltas.

An increasing number of the world’s top climate experts are warning we are in a climate emergency. 24 prominent Australians have called for emergency climate action, including scientists, business leaders, a former defence department secretary, and a former chair of the Australian Coal Association. (You can add your name to the petition here.) The statement read: Continue reading

Sep 14 2015

Will Turnbull act on climate?

As I write this, it looks like Malcolm Turnbull may replace Tony Abbott as Australian Prime Minister tonight. (Update: Turnbull is now PM!)

Abbott has spent his two years in government doing everything he can to dismantle every climate change policy, and most recently was caught on tape joking about rising sea levels with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. On the other hand, at least Abbott is an obvious enemy of the climate – with him in charge, it’s obvious nothing is being done.

Turnbull may be the most popular politician in Australia. Almost everybody I speak to seems to adore him. Whenever his name crops up in political news and commentary, he’s usually presented in a positive light. Most importantly, he is perceived as a rare green Liberal. He is now much more popular than when he previously led the Liberal Party in 2009, probably because the circumstances in which he lost the leadership made him look like a sort of green martyr. So when I tell people I am distrustful of him, they are astounded. Surely Turnbull would be far preferable to Abbott?

In the past Turnbull has painted himself as a champion of the climate, and for years many in the climate movement have dreamt of him becoming Prime Minister. Yet today, he said he will hold the party line on climate policy mechanisms and targets (and also on same-sex marriage, his other major point of difference with Abbott). He described Abbott’s climate policy as “very well designed, a very, very good piece of work”. In today’s press conference announcing his leadership challenge, he made not one mention of climate. Not one. Rather he talked of “economic leadership”, “economic confidence that business needs”, and free trade agreements – the buzzwords of those who oppose climate action.

Let’s look systematically at the various incarnations of Turnbull that have existed over the years and the various positions he has taken on climate. Which if any of them is “the real Malcolm”? Is he really any different from Abbott? And if Turnbull plans to change climate policy despite his denials, what kind of changes might he make?

Continue reading

Apr 01 2015

Are we approaching peak stupidity?

You’ve heard about peak oil, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Increasingly concerns are being raised about the sustainability of the most important resource keeping fossil fuel industries alive: stupidity.

As environmentalist Comm. N. Sense explains: “the fossil fuel lobby relies on stupidity to keep the public electing the politicians who are allowing them to expand their mines and exports. But like any non-renewable resource, stupidity is bound to run out sooner or later. I believe the relentless increase in stupidity production we are currently observing is creating a stupidity bubble that could burst at any time. When the bubble bursts, society will wake up to the urgent threat of climate change and act at emergency speed to phase out fossil fuels.”

This would be a devastating development for the mining industry. How else might society be impacted when stupidity production peaks?

“The world as we know it will come to an end,” explained Idi O’See, an expert with a BS in stupidity. “Most people don’t realize how much we use stupidity in our everyday lives. For example, after peak stupidity the media will no longer be able to devote so much coverage to sports and celebrity news. People will stop going to church, and sales of many luxury goods could plummet. Voters will turn away from the traditional political parties and elect candidates with new ideas.”

Economists warn that climate change impacts will make it progressively harder to extract stupidity: “Just like coal mines can be put out of action by fires and floods, these extreme weather events also threaten to create at least a temporary reduction in stupidity. The mining lobby has to work ever harder after such events to return stupidity production to prior levels.” Continue reading

Feb 18 2015

Is Turnbull a green Liberal?

If you’re Australian and you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ll know PM Tony Abbott narrowly survived a leadership spill motion in the Liberal party room last week. Most commentators agree we haven’t heard the end of this. The apparent leading candidate is Malcolm Turnbull. It’s also possible Abbott could be challenged by Julie Bishop or Scott Morrison, but here I have chosen to focus on Turnbull because of the particular way that he is perceived by the electorate.

Malcolm Turnbull may be the most popular politician in Australia. Almost everybody I speak to seems to adore him. Whenever his name crops up in political news and commentary, he’s usually presented in a positive light. Most importantly, he is perceived as a rare green Liberal. He is now much more popular than when he previously led the Liberal Party in 2009, probably because the circumstances in which he lost the leadership made him look like a sort of green martyr. So when I tell people I am distrustful of him, they are astounded. Surely Turnbull would be far preferable to Abbott?

To begin with, I reject any notion that Turnbull’s “charisma” or suchlike makes him PM material. We cannot rely on instinct to discern which politicians are more trustworthy. It’s a politician’s job to appear as if their speech and body language is natural and sincere, and to manipulate our instincts to create such an impression. A politician who intuitively seems more natural may in reality be more fake.

Let’s have a look at the various incarnations of Turnbull that have existed over the years. Which if any of them is “the real Malcolm”? Continue reading

Feb 08 2015

2014 the warmest year as global heating speeds up

2014 was the hottest year in the global surface temperature record, according to independent analyses by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), US National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), UK’s Met Office, and even the team of skeptics at Berkeley Earth. The one exception is the University of York dataset, which has greater warming over the last two decades and a higher record which 2014 was not quite able to break. The former two records go back 135 years; the latter three cover 165 years. Continue reading