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Tag Archives: coal

What could possibly go wrong?

By Kathryn

Why on earth would a climate-change-denying PM who shows 100% support for the filthy, polluting coal-mining and environmentally destructive gas fracking industries attend the COP26 (climate change conference) in Glasgow? Wasn’t this the same fool who dragged a piece of coal into Parliament House and declared – in front of a gleeful Barnyard Joyce – that “there is nothing to be afraid of – it’s just coal! Nothing to see here!” It came as no surprise that the yellow-bellied coward, Sloth Morrison, slunk away and returned back to Australia right before the conference even started! Why? Because he knew that his climate-change-denying ideology will be held up for ridicule on the world stage at any international summit on the emergency to address important issues on a subject the LNP do not believe in! That is exactly the type of disgraceful, cowardly behaviour we have come to expect from a useless, non-achieving PM who expends more energy trying to get out of work and totally avoiding any of his responsibilities as one of the highest paid “leaders” in the free world!

When we recall how Morrison hid behind a deck chair in Hawaii when his own state of NSW nearly burnt to the ground last year; when Australians recognise that this lazy, bone-idle political parasite delegated 99.99% of his job to the hapless State Premiers; When he tried to steal the “limelight” from the Ruby Princess aka Gladys Berejiklian when he thought she was the “Golden Girl” only to betray and abandon her the second he (and we) realised that she was not – it provides anyone with an IQ >10 a thorough insight into the self-serving, smirking entitlement of a stone-cold, ineffective, callous and contemptuous Sloth Morrison!

Now we have the LNP at State and Federal level making ridiculous claims to have some type of non-existent plan set up to halve emissions by 2030 – WTF??? Anyone with any semblance of foresight combined with a sense of reality knows that it is highly unlikely that the LNP will even be in power at that time! Truly, Morrison is right up there with John Howard (who has been likened to a war criminal), and that useless, swaggering, smirking misogynist, Phoney Abbott, as the three worst, most inept, stratospherically arrogant and totally corrupt politicians in Australian history! What makes them even worse is that, despite their appalling cowardice, despite their increasing level of corruption, their never-ending lies and broken promises, the way the LNP literally thrive on hate, fear, division, misogyny, chaos, dysfunction and war – especially when they are backed into a corner or right before an election; despite the LNP wasting countless billions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars (that Australians can ill-afford) on useless weapons of war that will soon become obsolete – they remorselessly try to hide all this appalling depravity behind a thin, transparent cloak of sanctimonious bible-thumping hypocrisy!

The fact that Morrison is a signed-up member of a notorious, alleged paedophile-protecting cult of Hillsong and, indeed, stacking his cabinet and staff with other Hillsong members, should be a red flag warning that this dangerously undemocratic autocrat is determined to increase his sick, twisted and dangerous mix of politics with the rabid, misogynistic flat-earth ideology of Hillsong!

Ever since Morrison rose to power on the back of his treacherous, backstabbing betrayal of Michael Towke and Malcolm Turnbull, the level of political subterfuge, self-serving corruption, rorting and waste of hard-earned taxpayer dollars has risen to an alarming level together with Morrison’s smirking arrogance, secrecy and autocracy which is now bordering on fascism. The sooner this monstrous and totally depraved regime are kicked to the kerb, the better for everyone.

The tragic fact is that the LNP – at State and Federal levels – are wrecking balls destroying, annihilating, vandalising and defunding everything Australians value including our taxpayer-funded ABC (into which they are parachuting obsequious right-wing sycophants like Lisa Millar and David Speers), Medicare, Aged Care and just about every socially-responsible program devised to protect our environment and the most vulnerable people in our society!

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Surprises Are Surprising – Just Ask Theresa May, Tony Abbott Or Campbell Newman!

A few weeks ago I suggested that I couldn’t understand why Theresa (Dis)May called an election. She had everything to lose and very little to gain.

Ok, she was riding high in the polls and, even though she had three years before she had to face the people – in her case, for the first time as PM – she decided that she needed to shore up her support and get a “strong mandate” for Brexit. While some saw it as a cynical attempt to take advantage of Corbyn’s supposed lack of electoral appeal, it was generally thought to be a good political move. And, just like when the US banks were bundling loans together and selling off the risk before the GFC, there was no risk.

However, Theresa (Dis)May got a surprise. Who would have thought it? (Ok, well I did suggest that it was possible a few weeks ago, but nobody takes me seriously!) Of course, that’s the thing about surprises: They’re surprising. Otherwise they wouldn’t be a surprise and they’d be that other thing which we call predictable. If a thing is predictable, it’s not a surprise. But to me the surprising thing is that anybody is actually surprised about the surprise.

To explain what I mean, let’s look at the world of the past few years. Ok, we can’t expect a British PM to have heard about Campbell Newman going from a record majority to losing the next election when the only thing he’d done wrong was to be a complete dickhead, but we could expect that she’d be more familiar with British politics where the following things have happened in the recent past:

  1. In 2015, David Campbell’s Conservative Party is re-elected in a surprise result.
  2. He surprisingly calls for a vote on leaving the EU.
  3. The “leave” campaign surprisingly wins in spite of having Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson arguing for it.
  4. David Cameron quits as PM less than a year after being re-elected. Perhaps not a surprise after the vote, but certainly not expected at the start of the year.

So, in 2017, thinks Theresa, let’s call an election because I’m not expecting a surprise. After all, Donald Trump was elected in the USA, so it’s not like anything is possible. No, I’ll go to the polls, increase my majority and I won’t even need to debate Corbyn because nobody likes him. Yes, half the country did vote against Brexit, and, yes, we don’t have compulsory voting, but I am expecting all those people who voted for David last time and who voted against Brexit to come out and vote for me to give me a massive mandate. And no, I’m not expecting any protest vote because some people think we’re going to win so they feel safe voting for other parties just to let us know that they think we’re a bunch of out-of-touch wankers. I’m sure that my support for the re-introduction of fox hunting will be the sort of policy that shows that we understand that people are doing it tough…

But in a world of such unpredictability, it’s good to know that there are still some things you can rely on! Take Tony Abbott.

While both major parties, business, scientists and others all agree that we need to find some sort of bipartisan policy on energy, Tony decided to pre-empt the Finkel Report by declaring that the Liberal Party needed to be the party of “cheap power”… Rather ironic, when I think about it.

Anyway, Tony was concerned that the Finkel Report could lead to coal-generated power going from its current 65% to around 20%. Given that a large chunk of the report was about ensuring energy security, I haven’t been able to work out why it’s a concern, beyond the current fetish that some Liberals have for handling lumps of coal. If battery storage gets to the point when renewables could deliver 100% of our energy needs, why would need to send men into the mines to dig up coal? (Actually, even if we still needed coal, it’s far more likely that all mining will be automated, depriving our workers of not only jobs, but fringe benefits like black lung disease and industrial accidents!)

But no, apparently coal will still be good for humanity and any attempt to replace it isn’t just unrealistic, it’s also somehow wrong. We have a moral obligation to sell our coal. If God hadn’t wanted us to mine it, he wouldn’t have put it in the ground! (By the way, you can have a lot of fun with the same argument when you apply it to sex, drugs, alcohol or just about anything considered sinful by the person proposing the theory. For example, “If God hadn’t wanted me to practise bestiality, why did he make sheep so damned attractive?”)

And, of course, let’s not forget Malcolm Roberts when talking about certainty in an uncertain world. You can be certain that Malcolm’s argument will go like this:

  1. Empirical evidence is the only thing that matters.
  2. Because I know this, I must be clever.
  3. Because I am clever, I must be right.
  4. This is empirical evidence, and if you don’t see that, then you are ignoring the facts.
  5. If you bring up evidence that doesn’t agree with my point of view, it must be from some organisation that is pushing a political agenda and can be safely ignored because it’s not empirical evidence.
  6. If you attempt to argue with me, we shall go back to Point 1 and start all over again.

Yes, it’s good to be sure of some things in a world full of surprises. I mean, lots of things are uncertain but at least we know we can rely on people like Tony and Malcolm Roberts. Just like we know that when Malcolm Turnbull goes into the party room to argue that we need to find a bipartisan policy on energy, that he’ll be rolled and have to find some way to spin it as though it was Labor’s fault. Of course, this gets harder each time he has to blame Labor because, as Tony found out, you can only do that so many times before people start asking when you’re going to do something to actually fix things… Or in Turnbull’s case, when you’re actually going to do something.

Perhaps a new leader could blame Labor another dozen times before they start to look incompetent too.

What’s The Difference Between Barnaby Joyce And A Lump Of Coal?

The answer, of course, is that one is a prop and shouldn’t have been taken into the Parliament, while the other can be burned to provide heat – apart from that it’s useless…

Still confused?

Well, so am I! We have a Treasurer who took a lump of coal into Parliament. Just so you know, it’s against the rules to use props in Parliament. Ok, some of you are thinking, everybody knows that, but clearly Scott Morrison didn’t. I mean he wouldn’t deliberately ignore the rules, would he? That’s not a very good example to set our country.

Still, I guess when you’re dealing with those boring old number things as Treasurer day after day, you might need the odd creative outlet. Joe’s was dancing after the Budget, but unfortunately, not in the dark. Costello’s was creating fiction; he used to tell people that he’d be a great PM and one day soon, he’d challenge John Howard. Scott must have spied a lump of coal and been hit with an idea. Once inspired, you do tend to take liberties. That’s what artists are like, they sometimes feel that the rules don’t apply to them because they have a message to get out to the world.

I can picture it now, Mr Morrison and his lump of coal in his office. He calls in his staff. “I have this great idea,” he tells them.

“What is it?” they ask, fearful that it will involve incredible amounts of work “fixing the Budget”, or at the very least coming up with reasons why Labor owing $287 billion was the end of civilisation, but raising the debt ceiling above half a trillion isn’t worth talking about.

“I’m going to take this lump of coal to Parliament,” Scott tells them.

The staff nod approvingly, figuring that if they can perfect their nodding, they may get a safe seat where they can stand behind the PM and nod approvingly, but Scottie doesn’t notice. He’s on fire… (no, not literally!)

“And I’m going to say ‘This is coal,’ and I’m going to tell the Opposition not to be afraid of it! Brilliant, eh?”

His staff keep nodding as though there’s more, so Scott improvises.

“Um… then I’m going to suggest that the Opposition are suffering from coalophobia.”

When told that there’s no such word, Scott says that he’ll be remembered for creating it, like that guy who invented the word “selfie”.

“I’ll admit that I’m making up the word and tell them that it’s this ideological malady that stops them from allowing coal to create jobs and growth. And it’s an illness and they need help… Brilliant, eh?”

The staff nod more approvingly because nobody wants to upset the Treasurer when he seems in a good mood. Lately he’s been so down, thinking of how Cory has left and that’s one less vote for him when the spill happens. Not even the idea of some families losing Family Tax Benefits has caused him to smile. Even when told that some asylum seekers are being forcibly removed from Manus and sent back to possible torture and death, his spirits barely lifted.

So the staff say nothing.

And Scott appears in Parliament with that ugly lump and hands him the coal when the Speaker tells him to put the prop away. (Someone assured me that a lip-reader confirmed to them that when Joyce was given the coal he stroked it, saying, “My precious, my precious,” over and over.)

Of course, it may not have happened quite like that. Scott may have just wandered in to Parliament and put his hand in his pocket and discovered that he had a piece of coal that he’d forgotten to take out, and when one of the Labor MPs recoiled in horror, he may have quite genuinely thought it necessary to calm their fears.

Whatever, I found Morrison’s performance with the lump of coal more disturbing than Richard Denniss’ great article: How Christmas Prawns Explain Australia’s Power Blackouts

Dystopian Reality – a Climate Change Future

A Climate Change Future

Predicting the future is a no-win scenario. There are so many variables that virtually anything is possible. Futurism inevitably becomes a matter of balancing likely outcomes from current trends, known factors and easily predictable future developments. Any attempt to predict the future will result in either one possible future or a range of possible futures. The one certain thing is that almost all the visions of the future must be wrong, because only one can be right.

This article offers one possible timeline for the next few decades, sketching environmental, socioeconomic, technological and military developments. This article considers the future between now and 2050 – well within the lifetimes of many reading this blog today. Consider it a thought experiment, designed to encourage consideration and discussion.

This timeline deliberately eschews disruptive events such as global pandemics, nuclear terrorism, asteroid impacts or the eruption of Yellowstone. These developments are possible, even (in the case of pandemic infections) likely, but placing them into a timeline would be entirely arbitrary, and the future may well unfold without them. Similarly, no deus ex machinae are included: there is no recourse to world-saving geoengineering or biotechnology developments. Altogether, what follows is a not unreasonable extrapolation of what the near future might hold for us, our children and our grandchildren.

These developments are all sourced in current literature and scientific research and linked directly to supporting evidence and analysis. These are processes that are happening now, and unless human civilisations immediately and radically change course, will continue to their inevitable end. An understanding of these likelihoods is necessary before we can honestly address the challenges of climate change, as the Paris agreements of 2015 recede into our past.

2016 – 2025

In the third world, civil unrest that arose in the early years of the 21st century continues unabated. Over the decades, the US and allies expend profligate effort to viciously subdue Islamic insurgencies in Syria and Iran, but new conflicts spring up more quickly than they can be put down. By 2025 the American people are thoroughly tired of continuing wars and American deaths and the US scales back its involvement, followed by its allies. The Middle East and large parts of the South-East Pacific dissolve into squabbles and conflict, swelling the ranks of refugees from tens of thousands into the low millions. The spark for all of these conflicts is increasing food scarcity and lack of drinkable water.

In Europe, the continued and growing influx of migrants contributes to the rise of right-wing political movements and a tightening of borders. In a desperate attempt to preserve the EU as member countries squabble over refugee policy and relative responsibilities, the Common European Asylum System border protection policy is progressively tightened and, slowly, refugee resettlement efforts give way to the establishment of giant refugee camps in barely habitable areas. The misery in these camps puts Australia’s Nauru to shame.

In Asia, China is pushing strongly for hegemony in the Pacific and the Arctic and Antarctic. Small chains of islands in the Pacific are claimed by China and forcibly pacified despite opposition. The territorial claims include oil fields and China doesn’t take long to start enforcing its ownership there. Other nations suffer as a result as they lose energy sources, but can’t challenge China. China is taken to international courts for a variety of cases, but while the legal proceedings drag on for years, China doesn’t hesitate to consolidate its hold, building artificial islands and industrial city-complexes as bases for its military forces. At the same time, enormous resources are poured into renewable energy generation. China begins to take a lead in solar and wind technology but does not share this technology easily. Large parts of China are becoming desertified at a rapid rate, with internal displacement of millions of Chinese into more fertile areas. Chinese cities, already congested, become ever more crowded and poor. China responds by commencing construction on new urban centres, completely powered by renewable energy, each built as industrial or research hubs.

Drilling for oil by US companies commences in the Arctic. However, China and Russia are also exploring here and not inclined to respect national borders and national territorial claims. This instability leads inevitably to clashes of forces, first between commercial enterprises (and, occasionally, environmental campaigners) and, later, military forces as all sides start patrolling the area with their own navies to protect the operations of their drillers. The distinction between US government and commercial entities begins to blur, to match the situation with both China and Russia. Meanwhile, the effects of climate change continue to accelerate. Tornadoes and freak storms batter coastal cities such as New Orleans, while unprecedented bushfires rage across large parts of the continental US and destroy many consecutive seasons of crops. Food prices, already increasing rapidly, escalate further.

In Australia, the narrow election victory of a Labor government in 2016 gives brief hope to many climate observers, but these hopes fade as it becomes clear that the new government, whilst not as outspokenly climate hostile as the Abbott/Turnbull regime it replaced, is still constrained by the narrative created by it and by the general attitudes of a climate-skeptical populace. Policy adjustments to reduce reliance on coal and oil and to increase renewables are slow and tentative, and by 2025 Australia is still heavily coal dependent and still exporting large volumes of coal and LNG. However, as predicted in the early parts of the decade, the demand for coal has decreased markedly as target markets accelerate their move towards renewables as well as their own domestic sources. Accordingly, the export price of coal and gas has fallen significantly, putting increasing pressure on Australia’s economy.

The economic downturn causes problems for Labor. The 2024 election sees a return to power of conservatives, but after eight years in the wilderness this new breed of liberals are far truer to the description and bring a raft of climate policies to the table, painting Labor as being “the friend of Big Coal”. By 2025, deep government “transition” subsidies to existing fossil fuel companies are on offer, but this disrupts the burgeoning renewable energy market which has until now been dominated by new entrants and innovators. 2024 sees the start of a process where most renewable energy companies and entrepeneurs will be bought up by BP, Shell, Exxon and others. By 2024, the first generation of university leavers, beneficiaries of Labor’s education investments, are graduating and entering the workforce.

It is likely that the first off-Earth colony will be established on Mars. Manned exploration of near-earth asteroids is either planned or commenced.

2025 – 2050

Rising sea levels, declining rainfall and frequent heatwaves are combining to turn vast swathes of South Asia uninhabitable. Asian and African countries are slowly but surely depopulating, both through climate refugee immigration and through deaths to disease, dehydration and starvation. Climate refugees are now an unstoppable tide numbering in the millions, swamping Europe as they arrive daily by the thousands. The EU is attempting to enforce borders with paramilitary forces but the refugees are too desperate and borders too expansive to be successfully patrolled.

Europe is now populated by two subgroups: Citizens and non-Citizens. Two parallel economies now exist. The grey economy is populated by and largely serves illegal immigrants. Not being covered by social support or healthcare from European governments, immigrant populations look after their own needs as much as possible, but are treated as second-class citizens. Crime, while still low on a per-capita basis, has exploded and public areas are now constantly patrolled by heavily armed police forces.

Populations already strongly influenced by hard-right governing parties, the first pogroms of the 21st century commence in some European countries.

In Asia, territorial wars are breaking out. Some are short skirmishes but the whole region is a simmering pot of conflicts. North Korea annexes South; without the US being willing to come to the aid of the South, the North has military superiority. However, within a few years the unified Korea is on the verge of collapse as, rather than benefiting from the economy and technology of the South, the whole of Korea starts to devolve towards its conquerors. By 2050, Korea attempts military expansion elsewhere but fails in its attempt at imperialism, and Korea collapses into a failed state. Japan is now fully self-sufficient, imports no oil and is falling behind economically; however, powered almost entirely by nuclear, the populace is relatively content. Rising sea levels are a concern for Japanese policymakers and resources are poured into levies and protection efforts. China is aggressively advancing its space exploration program and has a permanent settlement on Mars (and one on the Moon). It is starting to mine asteroids for rare minerals and metals.

China’s investment is starting to pay off, with thousands of high-level scientists and engineers living in custom-built technology cities, many completely enclosed in atmospheric domes: technology developed for their Mars colonies is now adapted for use on Earth. Inland desertification is continuing and food production is the country’s biggest ongoing concern. Coal is completely phased out for energy generation. At the same time, laws are passed banning export of fossil fuels. China begins construction of enormous enclosed farms for fish and crops, and continues an aggressive program of purchasing arable land in Australia and other locations. These efforts are now meeting with resistance as other governments see the signs but global courts and national economic systems are slow to react.

The global oil crisis plunges America into a deep depression, as the price of oil extraction climbs to make fossil fuels uneconomic. Attempts are made to leverage renewable and distributed power generation, but the process has been too slow and costs are extreme: the transition was not accomplished while energy was cheap. The US reduces its military spending to focus on a new insular approach – gone is the “muscular diplomacy” doctrine, as the government simply can’t afford to continue it and still put the resources into decarbonising the economy. Strong legislation is drafted to recraft the economy, putting caps on corporate and individual profits and ensuring a greater proportion goes to government revenue. Rebates and exceptions are drafted if individuals put significant resources into approved renewable energy projects. Belatedly the US starts subsidising renewable energy generation programs, but the oil crisis puts a significant brake on these efforts. Exacerbating the concerns for America, many of its cities are slowly becoming too hot for habitation. Americans still live in New York and Washington, but the hotter climate is having a measurable impact on productivity.

By 2030, China has banned the use of coal for energy generation, closing one of Australia’s major export markets entirely. India is advanced in its push to renewable energy and domestic coal sources, and the majority of Australia’s export coal has no buyer. The price of coal-fired energy in Australia plummets, putting downwards pressure on renewable energy research and take-up; nonetheless, major coal miners go out of business. The Australian economy is in terminal decline with high levels of unemployment nationwide and continual government deficits. New political microparties are in the ascendancy as both Labor and the Liberals suffer from public dissatisfaction, but the microparties do not have the strength or discipline to govern for the country’s future; governance devolves into a multitude of partisan interests, populist policies and pork barrelling. Australia has a brief advantage from an influx of technology students, but with few high-tech companies to employ new graduates and a new conservative government reluctant to fund placements and subsidies, many are forced to seek work overseas.

Some parts of Australia are becoming difficult to live in: the vaunted “New North” program is stalling due to high levels of heat stress, regular flooding and low productivity due to high wet-bulb readings. Towards the end of this period, the collapse in farmland, the continued sale to China and others of food-producing territory, and lowering aquifers and water levels are major concerns. Food prices are increasing. Meat, in particular, is becoming too expensive to eat regularly, and most Australians’ diets now include less meat overall. The 2040s see the last of the baby boomers retiring. Government revenue is insufficient to pay for comfortable social security for many, and the ranks of the elderly poor are swelling. Healthcare is also overstretched and death rates among both the young and the elderly are rising.

Beyond 2050

The world after 2050 may appear, to our 2016 eyes, as a dystopia, but this is no fantasy. There are no happy endings in store. The seeds which are planted over the next thirty years – both good and bad – will direct the fate of humanity as the state of the planet Earth continues to deteriorate.

By the 2050s, the Amazon rainforest is in irreversible decline. Deforestation by humans, combined with wildfires exacerbated by climate change, have had an irreversible effect. The eventual death of the rainforest is now a certainty, and as the forest itself plays a major role in regulating the planet’s climate, its loss is one further accelerant to climate change.

The most immediate outcome is the emergence of major human diseases. As climate change pushes humans and remote insect and mammalian species into direct contact and conflict, new animal-to-human diseases emerge with alarming regularity. Fortunately, most of these diseases are suppressed before they become airborne and cut a swathe through remaining human populations, but each new disease emergency has the potential to kill millions.

International flight has been curtailed: a combination of oil shortage and punishing carbon restrictions means that jet fuel is too expensive. There’s nowhere to go, in any case: people now want to escape tropical locations with their daytime temperatures in the 40s, rather than travelling there for holidays. The Great Barrier Reef has been dead for decades, and the annual vacation overseas is now, except for the very wealthy, an indulgence of the past.

By the second half of the 21st century, death from starvation is one of the major killers of humans. Large swathes of Asia, Africa and central Europe are becoming quickly depopulated. Deserts are spreading across the United States midwest, and it is likely that at some point in the century, one or more States may secede from the union. By 2100, it seems likely that the United States will be united no longer.

Disunity in the former European Union is no less severe. Pressures over resources and land, particularly water, lead to armed conflicts. The European wars of this era are localised and in many cases informal, but they are wars nonetheless. Some smaller countries are either annexed by their neighbours, or left without sufficient water resources to feed their own peoples. Other European countries are dealing with their own civil wars or popular uprisings, ostensibly on grounds of race or nationality, but triggered by food and water shortages caused by climate change.

By the late 21st century, capitalism as we know it will have been largely replaced by a kind of socialism. The loss of the oil economy has the effect of making individual prosperity much more difficult, as a large proportion of energy generation comes from state-owned solar and wind farms that dwarf those run by private concerns. Continued and growing pressure from an ever-expanding base of unemployed citizens requires an ever-increasing investment into social security. Governmental caps and curbs on individual profit gradually metamorphise into a socialist structure, and the most prosperous in society receive an increasing proportion of their windfall gains in non-monetary forms.

By the time 2100 arrives, it is likely that our planet will be harsh and unforgiving, covered in billowing deserts and rising oceans. Sea levels will continue to rise, unstoppably, for the next three hundred years at least, and by the time this process is over they will be a minimum of six metres higher than now. This will entirely cover the vast majority of current human cities, but sheer physics constrain how quickly this can happen, and human civilisation will have either collapsed or entirely changed by then.

If humans survive in this new world, most likely they will exist in artificial environments. These self-contained cities will utilise much of the renewable energy they gather for cooling, for water purification, and for agriculture. We are building a future where we will need to be terraforming our own planet in order to continue to live there.

Near-term future

The 20th century saw immense changes in human technology, civilisation and society. The development of mankind is an accelerating trajectory, and the first decades of this century have showed that we’re not slowing down. However, the effects of climate change place severe constraints on the direction of our species for the immediate future.

The one thing that can surely be said of the next hundred years is that the world in 2100 will be mostly unrecognisable to what we know today. The predictions made in this article are strongly supported by current trends and analysis, but may easily prove to be conservative. What we do know is that we will see this future coming to pass.

Humans aren’t great at planning for the long term: anything outside of our own lifetime is so remote that we don’t generally bear it in mind when making decisions. However, we are capable of making long-term plans for our own future – we consider our retirement needs, the schooling of our children, our investments into property. So consider this: those taking out a new mortgage now will see this future shaping around them. People are buying houses now that will be underwater before the mortgage is fully paid. Or, to put it another way:

This future is nine elections away.

Can’t afford a house? Well maybe you could settle for a power station!

As I’ve pointed out before, the business section of the paper is more reliable when it comes to getting information. I’m not suggesting that the opinions in the business section are any better, just that, when it comes to money, people are more upset when the media gets its facts wrong.

Anyway, as I doubt that any of you unemployed, left-wing tree-huggers would have found time to read “The Australian Financial Review” in between cycling from your lattes to the latest protest, I thought I better point out this article to you:

NSW government sells Vales Point power station for $1m

OK, if you don’t have the time to read it because you’re worried that your latte will get cold, the two important bits are these:

  1. The article begins by telling us how cheap the power station was. In spite of it being one of the largest coal fired power stations in NSW, I could have probably crowd-sourced enough money to put down a deposit, if I’d promised that we’d shut it down. “Two investors have bought one of NSW’s largest coal-fired power stations for the price of a nice suburban house.Brisbane-based energy consultant Trevor St Baker and coal baron Brian Flannery paid the princely sum of $1 million to the NSW government for the Vales Point Power Station.”
  2. The article also had the following little titbit of information: “Though cleaner than Victoria’s brown coal plants, in the absence of a carbon price black coal plants are being squeezed out of the National Electricity Market by brown coal and renewable energy because its marginal operating costs are higher.” (emphasis added”)

The fact that a large coal-fired power station only brings a million bucks when sold suggests that they’re aren’t a lot of people out there who think that this a great investment opportunity. However, I think the second point is the more interesting after Malcolm Turnbull’s comments about our coal being the “cleanest in the world” (What – we wash it and then we put it in the spin?). So, in this country the absence of a carbon price is squeezing “clean” black coal out of the market.

Well, it’s good that someone saved the company then and aims to keep the power station alive. There may be a future for black coal yet. As one of the buyers said they’ve got lots of experience in the industry and they’re confident they can turn the losses around, saving oodles of jobs. Well, for now anyway, because he also made this rather interesting little comment:

“We are aiming for at least seven years [of operation] if coal-fired power generation continues to be required in NSW,”

If? I thought coal was meant to be the major party of the energy mix for the next fifty years.

 

The price of solar in India could fall below that of coal within 5 years

By Dr Anthony Horton

According to a KPMG report published this month, the price of solar power has declined more than that expected by many analysts since January this year. In India currently, the price of solar is within 15% of coal process on a levelised basis. In the report titled “The Rising Sun-Disruption of the horizon”, KPMG contends that while the current price of solar doesn’t include grid integration costs, even after taking them into consideration, solar would still be competitive with coal. By 2020, they forecast that the price of solar power could be approximately 10% less than that of coal.

By 2020, KPMG forecasts a generation price of INR 4.2/kWh and INR 3.59 kWh by 2025 (at today’s prices), and that wind and solar generation could constitute 20% of India’s energy supply mix by 2025. The biggest potential factor in solar power pricing in India could be rooftop solar, especially if it is supported by the continuing evolution of storage technologies. KPMG predicts that rooftop solar could provide 10 GW within 5 years and 49 GW within 10 years, and could mitigate as much as 275 million tonnes of carbon emissions in 2025. Thus it would make a sizeable contribution to India’s INDC which included a 33-35% reduction in emissions intensity of its GDP by 2030 from 2005 levels.

In addition to price forecasts, the KPMG report pointed to the need for stakeholders to understand the possible extent of the impact of falling solar prices on the coal industry, and to the need to face it. A new planning paradigm that takes into account a significant renewable energy input scenario (including storage and smart grids) going forward was needed in India, and the report also suggested that the Government focus on bolstering planning policy, institutions, resources and protocols. Appropriate incentives for investment in the integration of solar into the grid and balancing services should be implemented early, and consideration should be given to storage technologies being promoted in a similar fashion to the way solar power was encouraged through the National Solar Mission in 2009.

In flagging the significant competition utilities are likely to face from distributed rooftop solar, KPMG suggests they get into rooftop solar themselves and develop new revenue models based on the relationships they have with existing customers. If they don’t confront the competition, they could face losing customers and may need to rely on subsidies to remain solvent. They will also need to examine their power procurement portfolio and look at how they contract incremental capacities. The cost structures of new capacities should be scrutinised closely prior to committing.

On the basis that solar power in India would be at a sufficient scale from 2022, the coal sector would come under pressure. To meet that challenge, the sector should focus on cost efficiency and flexibility, according to KPMG. Imported coal prices could be influenced by a number of factors including slowing growth in China, energy efficiency (on the demand side) and a fall in the commodities cycle. KPMG further recommended that Coal India Limited conduct a study of long run costs and add flexibility to its operations so it can adjust to different demand and price scenarios as they arise.

A framework for encouraging private investment in ancillary services needs to be urgently addressed, according to KPMGs report. The solar sector represents significant investment opportunities, including storage solutions, demand response and grid balancing, however the significant ramp up needs are such that the availability of sufficient domestic capital may represent a challenge. International funds and domestic bond markets should be investigated by investors, according to KPMG. Given that solar is approximately four times as capital intensive as coal on a per kWh basis, a global economic recession could have a potentially significant impact-not just in terms of the availability of capital but also in terms of falling fossil fuel prices which would make solar potentially less attractive. If shale gas or clean coal technologies become more prominent they could also pose a threat.

In KPMGs opinion, solar power has the potential to be a significant part of India’s energy mix in the next decade. Solar is clean and will reduce coal consumption over time, which will help India’s fight against climate change. Rooftop solar can take the pressure off distribution grids, which are of lower quality especially in rural areas according to KPMG. The continued evolution of storage technologies could lead to further development of electric vehicles in India, which in turn would reduce oil consumption and could possibly increase energy self-reliance. From a global point of view, reduced oil consumption and storage technologies offer the potential for increased energy security which is critical for every nation.

rWdMeee6_pe About the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

Wonderful Humanitarians – The Altruism of Our New Coal Miners

“Coal is good for humanity, coal is good for prosperity, coal is an essential part of our economic future, here in Australia, and right around the world.”

Tony Abbott.

Now you’ve probably read something about the wonderful humanitarian efforts of Adani and Shenhua and their plans to create thousands of jobs with new coal mines. Of course, when I say “thousands” that’s at the upper estimate, so a more realistic estimate might be dozens of jobs by the time both mines are operational. Mainly in the PR industry.

But I can’t help but wonder what makes these companies so altruistic. Why start a big new coal mine when you could buy one? And when I say “you”, I’m not speaking generally, I mean you personally. If you don’t think you have the money I’ll lend it to you.

Actually, in fairness, I should say that we may have missed our chance because the mine I’m referring to was actually sold the other day. Price? $1. Maybe we could offer the new owners $2 and give them the chance to double their money in a week. The mine I’m referring to is Isaac Plains, so you can check that I’m not making it up by clicking the link.

But don’t worry there are plenty of other mines for sale. Just Google “coal mines for sale Australia” and you’ll see plenty.

Which makes the plans by Adani and Shenhua seem terribly generous. They’re going to all that trouble to set up a new mine when a mine like Isaac Plains – which a Japanese firm bought for $430 million in 2011 – can be snapped up for small change… literally. Those two companies must surely be just thinking of Australians and how they can help us out by starting a brand new mine in an industry which has about as much future as a buggy whip company. (Although “Fifty Shades of Grey” has led to a bit of a resurgence in those…)

I can see no other reason about from sheer altruism for them embarking on these projects. Although I am overlooking sheer incompetence.

I mean, Shehua Australia Holdings, for example, don’t seem all that good at financial management, filing its accounts late in 2014. And 2013. Mm, oh 2012 as well. But wait in 2011… nah, sorry, they were late then as well. Ok, anyone can be late. I mean, it’s not against the law. Oh, the Coorporations Act? Let’s not get technical. If it was good enough for the Abbott Government to break the law by releasing the Intergenerational Report late, it should be good enough for a company.

Univeristy of NSW lecturer, Jeff Knapp seems to think that Shenhua is pretty sloppy with their adherence to the rules, pointing out that they made a basic mistake in 2012 by including interest paid as cash paid to suppliers and employers in their financial report, but then he’s an academic, so what would he know. According to Knapp this a pretty basic mistake, but then he also thought that refusing to release tax details of millionaires for fear of kidnapping was pretty silly, so like all those interested in accounting, he clearly has an anti-Abbott agenda.

So let’s hear a big cheer for these two companies who are doing something out of the goodness of their hearts and not simply out for profit, like the wind and solar industries.

And as they’re not established industries – after all, clean coal is still in the development phase – perhaps we could get the Clean Energy Finance Coorporation to lend them some money, because they’ll have a pretty hard job getting it from a bank!

Gee, I hope that’s not another idea of mine that the Abbott Government steal.

 

It’s the environment, stupid

climate-change-economy-aurich-lawson-ars-technica

In the aftermath of the 2013 Australian election, I spoke to a variety of my friends and colleagues about the core issues that motivated my voting intention. Chief amongst these was the issue of climate change, and the various parties’ approach to Labor’s ETS or another alternative. I voted below the line and took into account several important areas of policy, to the extent it was known, but the primary consideration for me was climate change.

In many cases during my discussions, I was disheartened to hear that climate change just wasn’t top of mind for these people I valued. For them, other issues took priority: Australia’s budget, its productivity, its two-tiered economy. There were others for whom provision of healthcare, education, housing and social benefits were of higher import. And there were some for whom the key issue was the two parties’ policies on refugees and boat arrivals.

What people perhaps fail to fully understand is that climate change will fundamentally alter every aspect of life and governance in this country and around the world. It is already having adverse effects on health, on productivity, on national economies and on food production. And all the scientists tell us that we are on the cusp of a downward slope, that things will get far worse from here.

Already we can see some of the effects of climate change on the front pages of our daily news. In early 2013, a report was published indicating that the 2012-2013 Sydney summer was the hottest on record. That was before the current summer of bushfires began. When every summer becomes the “hottest ever”, we have to start wondering about where the trend will lead. 2013 has seen climatic extremes across the globe: from floods to blizzards, from droughts to heat waves, from tornadoes to wildfires, all of the linked events are record breaking or without precedent. But climate disasters, even when they directly affect people, are remote in comparison to daily pressures of life. They’re too big to easily comprehend as an immediate and pressing concern.

What seems needed is a connection between the oncoming threat of climate change and the pressing policy areas that do concern people. When the protest is made that money spent on carbon abatement could be better spent on hospitals, real information on the healthcare impacts of climate change is needed. When western Sydney voters are concerned about the tide of boat-borne refugees, a cold-eyed view of the millions of people who will be displaced from our asian neighbours (due more to loss of habitable land and food yields than to rising sea levels, although both are important) might help put the numbers in perspective.

There is one specific objection to prioritising climate change mitigation efforts and carbon abatement policy, and it’s a doozy. Under both Labor and the incoming Coalition government, Australia’s prosperity relies upon a continued efficiency in extracting mineral and fossil fuel wealth from our abundant reserves and selling them overseas. Under the newly elected Coalition, it is likely that this reliance on resource mining will increase, rather than decrease, as the government dismantles Labor’s perfunctory efforts at wealth transfer from the resources sector to high-tech industries and manufacturing. The Coalition’s rabid determination to vilify and destroy the “carbon tax” (more accurately described as an emissions trading scheme) is underpinned by this unspoken need to prop up Australia’s cash cow. Nothing can be allowed to interrupt the gravy train of that lovely, lovely brown coal. If they were to give an inch, to allow the ETS to continue, it wouldn’t be long until greenies were making cogent arguments about Australia’s net carbon export via its sale of coal to China and India. Failing a rational answer to such arguments, and unwilling to be the government under which Australia’s GNP collapsed, the best solution for the Coalition is to keep the fight focused on domestic use of energy.

On the wrong side of history

But the Coalition, as well as Labor and the whole of the nation, are caught up in the march of history. Cutting back on climate change priorities is a false economy. It will hurt us in the long run – not just environmentally, but financially.

Wind-generated power is currently cheaper than coal, and solar is not far behind. A little extra investment and solar power could take care of all Australia’s energy needs. Australia has, or had, some world-leading researchers and companies in the field of renewable energy, and it has wide-open spaces with very few people and plenty of sun and wind. Australia is a prime potential for development of economically viable renewable energy, removing our own need for fossil fuels, but also giving us high-tech energy generation to sell to other countries. Doing so would be costly. But the cost would be borne almost entirely by those energy companies already heavily invested in fossil fuels. Make no mistake: the average Australian would not suffer greatly from an immediate moratorium on coal mining. It is big companies, who hold long-term leases on prime coal-bearing land and whose net company worth is supported almost entirely on the coal still in the ground, which would be most affected. See Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math – I’ve linked to this article before but it deserves it.

Just because Australia has access to all this lovely, lovely coal doesn’t mean the rest of the world is standing still. As other nations implement carbon trading schemes, as new energy generation methods become available and economical, and as shale gas and other fossil fuels become increasingly exploited, the demand for coal and oil will decrease. Australia faces a growing risk of becoming the kid in the corner hawking his trading cards when the rest of the school has moved on to He-Man figures.

The long-term argument against coal goes along the following lines: the rapid emergence of shale gas, falling renewable energy costs, air pollution regulations, governance issues, action on climate change, changing social norms and worsening water constraints are putting pressure on coal’s competitiveness. – King Coal running out of luck

This may be partly why the Coalition is desperate to clear regulatory blockages to large-scale shale gas (fracking) projects in this country. The writing is on the wall for coal, and Australia will quickly lose its competitive advantage. Then we really will be the poor white trash of Asia.

What would it take?

For every objection to the prioritisation of climate policy (beyond the frankly unworthy “it’s not happening, not listening, nyah nyah nyah”), it is possible to make a case that climate change will have a dramatic deleterious impact.

Regardless, there remain those for whom climate change is not an immediate priority. The question must be asked, what would make it an immediate priority? Will it require the displacement of millions and a logarithmic increase in climate refugees reaching Australia? At what point does the loss of much of Australia’s food production capacity trigger our concern? We’re already facing annual floods/fires/heatwaves/climate events – how far does it have to go before we see the signs? Will the recognition of a “new normal” of climate events and weather spur us to action, or will it simply move us past action to despair? When the tides are swamping our cities and sucking at our toes, will we perhaps think that climate change may be worth our investment?

By the time these things come about, it will be far too late to change them. It may already be too late. Immediate, desperate, strong action may yet provide us a chance to partially mitigate the damage. But we need to make climate change a priority.

Unfortunately those who don’t want to spend money and opportunity now to combat a remote threat from the future are the same kinds of people who don’t want to invest now to build capacity for the future. They’re the economic rationalists, and they’re in charge of the funhouse.

Co-published on Random Pariah