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Tag Archives: Renewable energy

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

On a Road to Nowhere?

As we all wake up today from our election hangovers, and stagger bleary eyed to work, many are considering the real implication of living in interesting times… and the real possibility that the Governor General may be forced to call a second election.  The double dissolution election brought on by #stabilityMal has surprised everyone, not least the Australian voter; who, after casting their #rageVote now wonders what they were drinking, and who it was they spent those huddled, sweaty moments with in that election booth. Therefore, in another empty attempt to make sense of it all, it’s time for more analysis and conjecture!

Battle of the Bastards
updated 1800hrs 5 July The current count on the AEC website has the ALP leading in 69 seats, and the LNP with 66. The ALP is trending in a further two seats, and the LNP in three, though all five are too close to call… which should probably be the subtitle for this election.  The AEC has five seats undetermined; four Liberal and one ALP, which according to the current tally are likely to remain with incumbents. If that is the case we are looking at a 72/73 split  between the ALP and LNP.

updated 1800hrs 4 July The ABC (i.e. Antony Green) has a slightly different tally, with ALP at 67, LNP at 68 up from 64. Out of the 10 ‘seats in doubt’ the LNP is ahead on slender margins in four seats, the ALP on a similar knife-edge in five, and Xenophon party fairly comfortable in one. Giving us a House looking like this:
TABLES-house2

One of the key factors in this election is that traditional conservative voters have felt betrayed by the Liberal and National parties.  Mining, CSG, the NBN, foreign ownership, constant cuts and privatisation have been a catalyst for conservative voters to look at what else is on offer. Some have realised that the ALP has policies they support; others have turned even further right. As a result, immigration is likely to be a continuing flashpoint, though this time around even Pauline Hanson supports socialised healthcare and the NBN.

Greens and Andrew Wilkie have a record of voting with the ALP, though Wilkie has stated he will not enter into any deals.  Cathy McGowan tends to vote with the Coalition. Previously Katter aligned with the LNP, though this time there’s no carbon tax on the table this time. Key issues for Katter are CSG, energy privatisation and land sales, all of which the ALP have made murmurs about, while the LNP are unwilling/unable to move on either. If that will shift the pragmatic Katter away from traditional alliances remains to be seen.  Xenophon has already said he will take the number of seats either party wins into account when negotiating agreements, so if that second seat in Grey comes to Team X then he will truly be the kingmaker.

Stiff Upper Lip
The new senate is going to be a mixed bag. Media and politicians alike may decry the election results as a circus as much as they like; but the people have spoken, just not coherently.

There are two truths in democracy: The voter is always right… and you get the government you deserve… and based on ABC.net.au and the AEC website, the senate is currently looking like this:

TABLES-senate

The trend for seats in doubt generally toward the right wing parties such as Katter, Shooters, Fishers, and Farmers, One Nation, and the various Christian groups.  As per predictions, the lions’ share will likely go to the major parties; though there is a chance that either Katter or One Nation will get across the line.

Given the wide range of voices represented in the senate, we need to ask the question: Where do the new senators stand on legislation?

The Sydney Morning Herald published this rough breakdown of each parties’ focus.  The Weasel takes a next step and looks at how the senators will likely vote on current key issues.

Positions garnered from official policy statements, news reports, and interest group websites.
Where there is no clear position, it can be assumed that senators will use the issue as a bargaining chip to further their own agenda.

Marriage Equality
Derryn Hinch:     Pro equality, parliamentary vote
Fred Nile:            Anti equality, pro plebiscite
Jacqui Lambie:   Anti equality, pro plebiscite, conscience vote for party.
Katter:                 Anti equality
Lib Democrats:   Pro equality, parliamentary vote
One Nation:        Anti equality, pro plebiscite
Xenophon:          Pro equality, parliamentary vote
see also Aus Marriage Equality site

Climate Change / Renewable Energy
Derryn Hinch:     No clear position
Fred Nile:            Sceptic, pro nuclear
Jacqui Lambie:   Supports action (in statements), pro nuclear, voting record unclear
Katter:                 Pro Action, stop CSG, extend emission target, boost ethanol production
Lib Democrats:   Sceptics, support mitigation, pro nuclear
One Nation:        Wants a Royal commission into climate science “corruption
Xenophon:          Pro Action, 50% reduction target by 2030

Recognition or Treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Derryn Hinch:     No clear position
Fred Nile:            Opposes Constitutional recognition, supports increased engagement
Jacqui Lambie:   Constitutional recognition, plus dedicated indigenous seats in parliament
Katter:                 Wants action, possibly prefers treaty
Lib Democrats:   Opposes Constitutional recognition
One Nation:        Opposes Constitutional recognition and treaty
Xenophon:          Supports Constitutional recognition

Education
Derryn Hinch:    No clear position
Fred Nile:           Improve education by adding bible study, and cutting Safe Schools
Jacqui Lambie:   Boost TAFE, introduce national-service style apprenticeship scheme
Katter:                 Pro funding boosts, also wants systematic education reform
Lib Democrats:  Stop Federal funding, pro deregulation, cut Austudy
One Nation:       Government subsidised apprenticeship scheme
Xenophon:         Pro Gonski, anti university deregulation

Royal Commission into Banking
Derryn Hinch:    No clear position, may support
Fred Nile:           No clear position
Jacqui Lambie:  Supports
Katter:                Supports
Lib Democrats:  No clear position, unlikely to support
One Nation:       No clear position, may support
Xenophon:         Supports

NBN
Derryn Hinch:    No clear position
Fred Nile:           No clear position, wants more infrastructure
Jacqui Lambie:  Supports FTTP
Katter:                Supports FTTP
Lib Democrats:  Prefers private competitive roll out instead of government
One Nation:       Wants high speed broadband, proposes wireless hubs for regions
Xenophon:         Supports FTTP

Federal ICAC
Derryn Hinch:    Probably Pro ICAC
Fred Nile:           No clear position
Jacqui Lambie:  Pro ICAC
Katter:                No clear position
Lib Democrats:  No clear position
One Nation:       Probably Pro ICAC
Xenophon:         Pro ICAC

Refugees
Derryn Hinch:     No clear position
Fred Nile:            Mandatory detention, prefers Christian refugees,
Jacqui Lambie:   Wants children out of detention, strict monitoring & quotas
Katter:                 Turnbacks, faster assessment, and supply work while on TPVs
Lib Democrats:   Mandatory detention, on/off shore processing, strict entry requirements
One Nation:        Turnbacks
Xenophon:          Dislikes offshore processing, increase intake, speed up processing

Healthcare
Derryn Hinch:     No clear position
Fred Nile:            Better spending, especially in aged care
Jacqui Lambie:   Supports socialised medicine, especially for combat veterans
Katter:                 Supports socialised medicine, wants more services for regions
Lib Democrats:   Abolish Medicare, privatise, The Market will provide… apparently
One Nation:        Supports socialised medicine
Xenophon:          Supports socialised medicine, focus on prevention

On the question of which senators get a six-year stint, and which three… well that is up to the senate.  There are two options:
1. Order-of-election; Out of the 12 state senators, whoever crossed the line first gets six years.
2. Recount; Votes are recounted treating the vote as a normal three-year cycle. Whoever would have been elected on that basis gets six years.
Which one the senate uses will likely depend on the three major parties, with Xenophon once again in position as king-maker. The inestimable Antony Green, of course, covers this question in more detail.

The anti-Islam voting block of Fred Nile, One Nation, and Lambie will bring up issues surrounding Muslim Australians and immigration generally; and likely to include senate inquiries into banning burkas or halal certification and labelling. The LNP could use this flashpoint as a major negotiating chip to pass other legislation; though that is unlikely to be the ABCC bill.

On practical and ideological matters of investing in education, healthcare, and infrastructure such as the NBN, the balance is definitely leaning toward the ALP.  Lambie, Katter and Xenophon have shifted to the centre on these issues, and the LNP can no longer rely on social policies to wedge support for their neo-liberal economic programme. Accepting a Federal ICAC may present the ALP with a ticket to govern, but marriage equality is unlikely to get anywhere unless the ALP can push an open vote. Action on climate will be problematic, expect another senate inquiry into nuclear power.

As predicted Derryn Hinch picked up the PUP and Ricky Muir vote, though really has very little to offer beyond his pet name-and-shame project, and animal justice.  Populist by nature, he could decide or shift his vote if a concerted push came from his electorate…

…and that is important to remember. You can write to your MP and your Senator to express your preference. This parliament is an opportunity for voters and community to have a real impact on the nature of the parliament, and what agenda the parliament pursues. Given that the independent parties may decide who gets to form government, the time to start writing is now.

The politics of solidarity

Solidarity is an idea that is in the foundations of the ALP, writes Tim Curtis, and that means sticking together to fight for the common goals.

This weekend, as did many others I presume, I engaged in some Bill-hating as the ALP conference decided to support a boat-turn-back policy.

As I thought about this I was struck by a question: If I was so concerned with boat-turn-backs, why had I not joined the ALP? And then attended the conference so that my vote, my voice could have made a difference. How could I deservedly be annoyed at a group of people who I had tasked with representing me, when I had taken no direct action beyond writing some letters to make my apparently strongly held view known (contrary to populist belief Facebook and online petitions do not count).

As my self-righteous indignation began to subside I wondered to myself … “I wonder”, I wondered, “is this how Cory Bernadi feels when he doesn’t get his way on abortion?”

It has to be noted that Bernardi, and many others on the lunatic fringe of right-wing politics are rarely seen complaining in public that their particular policy wishes have not been taken on as central party platforms.

Instead he and others fall in line behind the mainstream neo-liberals and conservatives to show a solid front. When there is opportunity, Bernardi flies his freak flag high; but even then there is a definite sense that it is part of a larger design, that the timing of his “outbursts” are to draw away from something else, or to otherwise push the conversation further to where the neo-conservatives want them.

This led to a very uncomfortable thought. The thought that the success of the Right in taking government, and in dictating the terms under which progressive governments operated, and ultimately in controlling the narrative on the economy, immigration, defence and security, came from their unity: The Solidarity of the political Right. It sounds contradictory, and yet when do we see the hard-line neo-liberal voters moaning and complaining that job creators are still being overtaxed in the same way that refugee advocates attack their party of choice on a regular basis? And make no mistake; for the true-blood neo-liberal a completely unshackled market attracts just as much fervour on the Right as social justice does on the Left.

The discomfort does not stop there. At the ALP conference there was strong support for renewable energy and for marriage equality. Why not add refugee advocacy and make it triple-threat?

For the simple reason that it is an election loser.

Right now the ALP has a sure winner in marriage equality. It is also on a winner with renewables; it can co-opt many country and farming votes who feel betrayed by the National party on mining and CSG. It can also pitch action on climate change as means of supporting the expansion of Australia’s renewable energy industry, in turn as a means of rebuilding the shattered manufacturing sector in Australia. This is a pro-job platform that will resonate well in town and country and is sure to be a popular idea amongst all those ex-car industry workers and car-part service businesses and smart manufacturing in general across the nation.

Refugees, or boat people as they are known in the tabloids, have no such sympathies. Gone are the Post-Vietnam days where Australians felt responsible, felt culpable for the dire straits that South-East Asian refugees found themselves in after the fall of Saigon. Refugees from Afghanistan or the Arabian Peninsula, fleeing the mess that we in no small part took a hand in creating, are perhaps not as cuddly. Or maybe Australia has become hardened to the hardships of others because ‘we have our own problems’. Unemployment is up, wages are down, the rich get richer, and our great outdoors seems to be up for grabs to any foreign interest with enough cash to open a politician’s pocket.

Whatever the reasons: If the ALP attempted to go to the next election with a new refugee policy it would lose. There is no one who can honestly look at the untrammelled hysteria in political discourse in Australia and say otherwise.

What the ALP can do is the same thing that Tony Abbott has done: make promises, and then … when in power … change the conversation. Look at what Tony Abbott has achieved with countless NBN and ABC inquiries, Royal commissions, the Commission of Audit, and reviews into anything that can possibly change attitudes and direct the conversation.

Imagine how the public view would change after a parliamentary inquiry into refugee policy and into conditions on Manus Island? Complete hard-nosed analysis of the costs to tax-payers, with heart-warming stories about asylum seekers who have saved country towns from oblivion, and heart-breaking stories about how the Taliban came only hours after the Aussie soldiers had flown away home. These are things that can only happen from inside government.

There are many, including myself, who have had a lesson in realpolitik this weekend. As much as anyone in the ALP wants to change the policies toward Australia’s treatment of refugees, they all know that it is a guaranteed way to lose the next election. And despite what many might be saying about The Greens, it is fairly clear that after the last Federal and State elections, and in particular the election in Liverpool Plains, that The Greens are unlikely to be able to field enough candidates or win enough votes to form government alone, and almost certainly will not be able to win in the areas that the ALP need to win to swing the Liberal-National Coalition out of government.

So where does this leave us?

Sad. Angry. Yes, and more. Though I am more saddened by how quickly the level of conversation in Australia has returned to the bad old days of the Yellow Peril, and I am more angry at myself for being so hopefully naïve that Tony Abbott could lose an election with this issue on the table, when in reality it is likely that it would help him retain office in a sequel to Tampa.

What comes next is possibly even harder. I am still dedicated to changing Australia’s Refugee policy, but I now realise that is going to take time. Time to change the way people think so that tabloid radio, television and newspapers, and more importantly their readers are no longer interested in demonising refugees. And the longer that Tony Abbott and his ilk are in power, the longer it is going to take to drag Australia from the precipice of fear and loathing and back into the light. This means that while I will still hold to my beliefs, while I will still critique, I will also get behind the torches that we do have; marriage equality and action on climate change and do everything I can to get a government that will take action on the big social and economic issues. Because if I do not, then Tony Abbott will likely be re-elected and keep selling off public assets, keep selling out to corporate interests, and keep selling us all up the river with a co-payment for the a paddle.

Solidarity is an idea that is in the foundations of the ALP. Solidarity doesn’t mean that we always agree with each other. Indeed nor should we. What it does mean is that we stick together to fight for the common goals, and to forward our personal or factional goals as much as possible. All the while keeping our eye on the big picture, on the greater goal; of regaining an Australia that is the land of the fair go and where we truly do have boundless plains to share.

 

Excellent Work, Mr Abbott, Now Let’s Apply The Same Logic To A Few Other Areas

Photo: shutterstock

Photo: shutterstock

“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. As you may remember, the Government went to the last election with a policy of reducing accidental deaths in the workplace by twenty percent. We’re pleased to say that, not only are we on target to achieve this, the current indication is that we should exceed this target by a third. Obviously, this means that we can now announce that safety equipment should be considered optional and no new money should be spent on workplace safety.”

Mm, doesn’t sound plausible? What about:

“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. As you may remember, the Government went to the last election with a policy of reducing government waste  by twenty percent. We’re pleased to say that, not only are we on target to achieve this, the current indication is that we should exceed this target by a third. Obviously, this means that we must now embark on a spending spree so that we don’t exceed this target. Please send us your suggestions as to how we can spend frivolously to ensure that we only just meet our aim because to exceed it would be silly.”

All right then, so why does the Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane think that it’s fine to reduce the amount of energy produced by renewable energy projects by 2020 from 41,000 gigawatt hours to about 26,000?

“It won’t be a 27 per cent renewable energy target, it will be 20 per cent renewable energy target.”

 

But we all know that renewable energy costs more, right? Well, it does for the moment but according to the Murdoch Government’s own review, it should be cheaper by 2020, so we don’t want too much of that renewable stuff floating round. I mean, don’t wind farms slow down the wind which’d make the planet hotter? Doesn’t using too much solar risk us having less sunshine in winter? Not to mention those “unsightly wind farms” that so disturb Joe Hockey.

You know, Joe Hockey who assured the British that we have the “cleanest coal in the world”. After all, we have lots of brown coal and that must surely be cleaner than black coal, in spite of what the scientists say. Scientists, as we all know, would say anything if it suited their agenda of turning the world into a place where research was valued as much as the winner of the Melbourne Cup. (Personally, I like Guest of Honour and Side Glance for the Cox Plate, even though they’re both foreign horses!)

The Warburton Review found that this change to renewables would have the effect of redistributing wealth. From the fossil fuel industry to the renewable sector. And it might even lead to lower prices, which would mean that they were paying less tax and that’d mean that there’d be less money to spend on schools, hospitals, jet fighters, Middle Eastern Crusades, public information campaigns, shifting tables to the G20 and paying ASIO to troll the internet and change websites from what people had actually written to what they were actually thinking so that we didn’t have to wait until they’d actually done something before arresting them.

*                  *                  *

Can’t finish without paying tribute to Gough. It’s all been said, so all can do is add my “Vale Mr Whitlam”.

Of course, Mr Pyne thought it appropriate to mention that the news of the dismissal occurred while he was watching “Adventure Island” and that his mother was crying tears of joy while she was doing the ironing. I guess she was just one those lucky women who got a lot of pleasure out of ironing…

Climate change is irrelevant

In the argument for investment in renewable energy in Australia, the existence, or non-existence of climate change is irrelevant, writes Warwick O’Neill.

Like most semi-intelligent Australians I accept that all the scientific evidence provides near definitive proof that things aren’t looking real bright for our future generations, unless we invest in renewal energy technologies now. But us semi-intelligent Australians are no longer the ones who need convincing, are we?

Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and the rest of this chamber of horrors masquerading as a Government are the ones who need convincing. But while I think that deep down the majority of them probably do believe the science, they all believe much more in the money flowing into Liberal Party coffers from the likes of Gina, Rupert, and other esteemed members of the IPA. So do we continue doing things the way that we have been ever since these people stole the election, i.e. pleading to their conscience and their desire to leave a clean and sustainable future for our grand kids? Like that’s ever going to work.

As they say, the epitome of stupidity is to continue doing the same thing, in the same way and expecting a different result. We need to stop trying to bash down the front door. We need to stop appealing to their conscience and instead use their enormous egos and greed against them. Let’s stop trying to convince them that climate change is real, and start talking about the only things they care about; economics and legacy.

These people may be able to stick their head in the sand and deny climate change, but there are two unmistakable and unarguable truths which no amount of sand can cover up.

First undeniable truth – our mining resources will run out eventually. Whether it’s in ten years, fifty years or one hundred years, unless their God can miraculously replenish our stocks, we will run out. This will leave Australia with very little to trade and the rest of the world will be quite happy to say “thank you for your contribution to our future” while they wave us goodbye.

Even a government which passes the one collective brain cell around to whoever needs it most can see that this will be an economic disaster. How to avoid it though? By finding another source of income, something else which we can sell to an eager world. It would be hard to argue that Australia, due to its geography, isn’t ideally placed to take advantage of renewable energy production. Heavy investment in this industry could potentially reap enormous financial benefits to Australia. Yes, I know it would buck the trend to have a government in Australia that actually invests in assets rather than selling them off, but humour me.

We all know that solar is a viable source of energy. If solar panels the size of an average house roof can provide sufficient power to run that house, imagine the power output of a 1000 acre solar panel. A few of these strategically positioned and we go a long way towards providing enough power to keep this country ‘rocking and rolling’. Government investment in training could help alleviate the job losses from the mining sector, and these new solar areas could be the future version of today’s “mining towns”.

The Horizontal Waterfalls (source: tripadviser.com.au)

The Horizontal Waterfalls (source: tripadviser.com.au)

Our other advantage is our fifty odd thousand kilometres of coastline. Each inch of this coastline is subject to the one of the truly dependable and predictable sources of energy on this planet – tides. Tidal energy doesn’t dissipate under an overcast sky or when the wind stops blowing. Some areas, such as the “Horizontal Waterfalls” near Broome, have such huge tidal flows that you could imagine, with the right technology in place, potentially provide enough electricity generation to supply the entire top end. And this happens twice a day, every day. But is going largely untapped due to lack of investment.

If any Government properly invested in the research and development and then implemented these technologies, then solar and tidal power could see Australia in a position to provide clean energy at least to the South East Asian region. Our scientists (should we have any left) could no doubt devise efficient and environmentally friendly ways of harnessing this power. The sale of the electricity produced, combined with the manufacture and export of our intellectual property could bring billions of overseas dollars into our economy, easily paying off the initial investment and then adding pure profit well into the future.

The second undeniable truth is that no matter how strenuously Tony Abbott fights against renewal energy, most of the rest of the world, even China, is already making great strides in establishing their own sustainable energy industries. This can mean only one thing for the Australian coal industry – a decrease in the price of coal. The less demand there is, the less it is worth. Economics 1 0 1. So long before coal resources run out, they’re going to be worthless anyway. Failure to start investing now will only mean that the rest of the world will be so much further in front of us when the time comes and we have no other option.

That takes care of the economic angle of attack; now let’s stroke their egos by dangling the carrot of legacy in front of them. Two things any politician who strives for the top echelons of government have in common is a massive ego and a desire to be remembered as one of the giants in history.

Point out to Tony Abbott that he could go down in the annuls of history as the visionary who set up Australia’s economic position in the world for centuries to come, and his ego is sure to be soothed. Actually scrap that. As the “suppository of knowledge” he’d probably think that he’ll be going down in the annals of history as the intellectual giant who scrapped the ‘carbon tax’. Sharp as a marble, our Tony.

But pitch the legacy idea to whoever will be the leader of the LNP once they rid themselves of Tony, and I’m sure they’ll show some interest. Maybe the thought of a gilded statue out the front of Parliament House, honouring their greatness would be enough to overcome the natural desire of most pollies to only look as far ahead as the next election.

Take the whole climate change debate out of the renewable energy argument, and all they are left arguing against is a stronger future economy and their place in history. We could very well get what we wanted in the first place, which is investment in sustainable energy and a brighter, cleaner future. Any military strategist will tell you, if your initial frontal assault fails, change your plan and take them in the flank, where they least expect it.

Laggards or Leaders

While Joe Hockey labels Australians as “lifters or leaners”, governments are similarly judged as “laggards or leaders”.  In one fell swoop this government has taken us from being a world leader to a despised laggard.

You could be forgiven for not knowing there was a climate change conference in Bonn in June.  In fact, I am not even sure if we actually sent anyone.  The last I heard, the delegates were standing around at Sydney airport wondering what to do because the PM’s plane had flown off to France full of photographers and businessmen, relegating the delegates to catch commercial flights, but the PM’s office, who control such things, had neglected to give approval for their expenses.

Since I had heard no reports of the conference I looked for myself.  This was the first story I came across.

Australia awarded Fossil of the Day at UN Climate Talks for Trying to Reconvene Flat Earth Society

June 10 2014, Bonn – Germany: CAN bestows the first Fossil Award of the Bonn UNFCCC negotiation session to Australia in recognition of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s stupendously brazen denial of the catastrophic risks posed by climate change in his effort to form an alliance of “like minded” countries opposed to action on climate change, already dubbed by some as a new “flat earth society.”

News accounts report that the Minister has enjoined Canada in his new coalition and is reaching out to other countries including the UK and India “aiming to dismantle global moves to introduce carbon pricing.”

CAN salutes the Abbott’s commitment and consistency in his willful blindness to the catastrophic economic costs incurred by climate change.

He has also recently announced his intention to keep climate change out of the upcoming G20 talks hosted by Australia arguing that  climate change is inappropriate because such talks are primarily about economics.

Prime Minister Abbott must have missed the IPCC memo which spells out that climate change is the economic problem facing our age – it’s already costing us, but it doesn’t cost the earth to save the world.

He is clearly looking for recognition of his visionary approach to climate change, and CAN is proud to be among the first to step out and congratulate his dedication to the fossilized past.  [In case you were wondering – no, this isn’t a joke.  Abbott has really done this.  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.]”

This came on the heels of the report from the conference in Warsaw in November last year.

November 22, 2013

This year’s Colossal Fossil goes to Australia. The new Australian Government has won its first major international award – the Colossal Fossil. The delegation came here with legislation in its back pocket to repeal the carbon price, failed to take independent advice to increase its carbon pollution reduction target and has been blocking progress in the loss and damage negotiations. Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi!

Some people have described our new Senators as a “breath of fresh air”.  What I see is ill-informed naïvity.  Clive Palmer has somehow convinced these “ordinary people” that Australia will be better off without a carbon price and a mining tax.  Nice going Clive.

Tony Abbott has managed to do the same, telling us that our cost of living will go down, jobs will be created, and investment money will flow….but don’t bet the house on it.

This unholy alliance has sent Australia backwards but they will not prevail.  Their actions will be increasingly condemned as the world forces them to take action on the greatest challenge our planet has ever faced.

Image by climate-change-guide.com

Image by climate-change-guide.com

Abbott will face enormous pressure at the G20 summit later this year, and at the climate change talks in Paris next year, despite his efforts to remove discussion from the agenda.  Under pressure from Obama, in a typically immature approach to control the language, Abbott agreed to discuss “energy efficiency”.

A recent poll by the Lowy Institute showed that after six years of declining public concern about climate change, the trend had reversed with 45 per cent of people saying it is a “serious and pressing problem”.

In the meantime, it is worth remembering that smart, decent people are waiting for this temporary nightmare to pass and have viable plans for the direction our future must take.

In July 2012, Beyond Zero Emissions produced a document called “Laggard to Leader – How Australia Can Lead the World to Zero Carbon Prosperity”.  The main thrust of the study is:

  • Australia must stop using the promise of a global treaty that won’t eventuate to duck responsibility for its ballooning coal and gas exports.
  • A moratorium on coal and gas expansion followed by a phasedown will drive a massive increase in global renewable energy investment.
  • Australia can lead the world to cheap, abundant renewable energy by deploying off-the-shelf, zero carbon technology that will grow Australia’s prosperity.

The International Energy Agency warned in 2012, “the door to a 2°C trajectory is about to close”.  To keep the door open, global emissions must peak and begin to decline by 2020 at the absolute latest and then keep declining to zero by between 2040 and 2050. We are in “the critical decade”.  Decisions we make today will largely determine the state of the climate system within which all subsequent generations must live.

The world’s nations gathered in Durban in late 2011 to continue long-standing negotiations towards a comprehensive international treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The best they could agree was that they would aim to negotiate by 2015 an agreement requiring some countries to start reducing emissions beginning in 2020. These negotiations cannot be relied upon to secure the emissions cuts that are required. “It is clear”, argue the editors of the world’s preeminent scientific journal, Nature, “that the science of climate change and the politics of climate change … now inhabit parallel worlds”.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Australia where the Federal Government and its State Government counterparts are aggressively supporting a massive programme of investment in new mines, wells, pipes and ports. These projects will see Australia export a staggering amount of highly emissions-intensive coal and gas during — and well beyond — the critical decade.

Australia is already the world’s largest coal exporter, responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s traded coal, and is the fastest growing exporter of liquefied natural gas. The emissions embodied in Australia’s fossil fuel exports already total much more than our “domestic” emissions. Based on data accumulated by Australian Government agencies, Australia’s combined coal and gas exports are projected to more than double between now and 2030.

To allow this to occur would be catastrophic for global efforts to avoid dangerous climate change: it would mean Australia would be causing more than 1 in every 10 tonnes of the greenhouse gas emissions that can be emitted into the atmosphere in 2030 consistent with a 2°C warming trajectory.

Australia is the steward of its natural resources. They belong to all Australians and we can choose what to do with them. When our exports of coal and gas are burned, the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is the product of these choices. The fact that these emissions are not counted in Australia’s “carbon accounts” under UN carbon accounting rules has previously been used as an excuse for us to ignore their consequences.

But these rules are based on the idea that all countries will have emissions reduction targets, the achievement of which will “add up” to the global cuts necessary to stay within the 2°C limit. With the UN negotiations deadlocked and no foreseeable prospect of such an international regime emerging in the necessary timeframe, this excuse is not acceptable.

Hoping, against all probability, that the negotiations will reach a breakthrough just in time, while at the same time making the problem they are trying to solve significantly worse is a dangerous, counterintuitive and counterproductive approach for Australia to take.

It is well beyond time to approach the global challenge of preserving a safe climate in a very different way. It is time to put leadership towards zero carbon prosperity at the heart of our response.

The logic of “Cooperative Decarbonisation” is simple. Each country must phase down to zero or very near zero the greenhouse gas emissions associated with every economic and social process over which it has control or influence.  Instead of drawing lines at national borders, this approach recognises that, in a globalised economy, countries have shared responsibility for many of the emissions that occur in any one place. As such, countries should use every lever they have to eliminate those emissions within their “sphere of influence”, including the fossil fuels they export and the goods they import.

Clearly, international cooperation will be required — particularly to ensure that the goals of sustainable economic development are achieved and that wealthier countries assist low income countries to make this essential transition. But instead of trying to do it all in one “grand bargain” as they are today, countries should work in smaller groups, focusing their efforts on the individual sectors and processes that cause emissions — working to leave fossil fuels in the ground, preserve the world’s forests and make renewable energy affordable for all.

Australia, one of the world’s wealthiest nations, is one of only a small handful of countries that can lead this process. The main reason for this is simple: our sphere of influence over global emissions is immense. Our high domestic emissions make us an important player, on par with nations like France, Spain and South Korea. But it is our ballooning coal and gas exports that make us a truly critical influence on global emissions.

We can use this position to focus the attention of world leaders on the most important, yet least discussed part of the climate problem: the fact that only one eighth of the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves can safely be burned. Australia can help make that which is currently “unthinkable” — a global fossil fuel phase out — a reality.

We need an Australian moratorium on new fossil fuel developments: a bold move from the world’s largest coal exporter that can serve as the centrepiece for a wider call to action. Such a move would maintain the current global price of coal and stop it from falling by an expected 30% this decade. It would be one of the few conceivable ways that any single country could jolt world leaders into action, creating the economic and political momentum to commence immediate global discussion on the best and fairest means to phase-out fossil fuels.

Thankfully, Australia’s global power does not arise only from our ownership of the resources that are fuelling the problem. As the beneficiary of world class solar and wind resources, we also hold the key to the most important solutions.

Solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind energy are essential to decarbonising the world’s energy system. Thanks largely to the targeted investments made by Germany and other European countries when these technologies were more expensive, they have sailed down the “cost curve” and are now price-competitive with fossil fuel energy in many markets. Germany’s installation of almost 30GW of solar PV brought PV prices down by an incredible 65% over the past six years.

The other crucial technology is concentrating solar thermal (CST) with storage. This technology, which is operating today in other countries, produces 24 hour energy from the power of the sun. The Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan showed that powering the Australian economy using predominantly CST is technically and economically achievable, starting now, in ten years. The greatest gift that sunny Australia could give to the world is to repeat for CST what cloudy Germany did for solar PV: through smart policies and targeted investments, enable the deployment across Australia of enough CST to make this game-changing technology cost-competitive with fossil fuels everywhere.

Cheap renewable energy will solve some of the most challenging problems facing humankind this century — from climate change, to oil scarcity, to energy poverty — and allow us to build a global economy on foundations as reliable as the rising sun.

Australia has the power to make it happen.  It is up to us to insist that it does.

A Perfect Storm

Image by climate-change-guide.com

Image by climate-change-guide.com

The implications of peak oil and global warming for world security

“The modern global economy has been built on cheap oil and its abundant availability.” –

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2011/02/11/opinion/Peak-oil-will-have-an-adverse-effect-on-all-econom-30148420.html

The security agencies and defense departments of the world’s strongest superpowers do not have the luxury of pretending that climate change is not happening. They’re not able to blithely deny that resource shortages, burgeoning world populations and runaway global warming will have ramifications for their regions and their countries. While their governments and politicians might outwardly deny that climate change is real or that society has any real limits, their militaries and their policy hardheads are quietly planning for the worst.

The reality is that our world economy, the political structures that shape it and the peoples that make up her nations are fragile, susceptible to any number of crises that could bring the system down. The 21st century sees a number of separate but related crises arriving more or less at once, and these crises will undeniably reshape the world around us.

At the root of these crises is oil, and our planet’s industrialisation borne on the back of cheap, plentiful energy. This boon has led to top-heavy societies that are too globalised to survive on their own. The abundance of oil has led to unparalleled prosperity, booming populations and mind-boggling technology, all entirely reliant on the continued availability of the resources that sustained their growth. And it has led inexorably to climate change and the host of disasters that this presents.

Governments and academics around the world are waking up to the geopolitical ramifications of climate change. Indeed, in the past few years we’ve seen the first upheavals whose roots can be attributed to changing climate. If unchecked, climate change will lead to a bleak future of climate refugees and interminable, bloody war. This is not histrionics. This is the considered view of very senior academics and powerful military strategists. The only questions are whether we might be in time to slow climate change through global action, and how first-world countries with resources available will respond as the world sinks into deprivation and conflict. The signs on both fronts, unfortunately, are not good.

By itself, climate change does not have to lead to war and tyranny. Climate change and its effects are, like any other political force, a challenge for governments to overcome. The real danger is in how governments respond to climate change. But the challenges of the future are likely to be too great to ameliorate.

The 21st Century will see a perfect storm of crises upon us. They are already in view.

Climate change – driven by the industrialised world’s dependence on oil for energy – is striking us hardest just when oil is becoming harder to supply. The world depends on cheap oil for energy as well as for agriculture, but we are reaching the limits of our ability to provide this essential resource before we’ve gotten serious about finding alternatives. And the intensive and growing use of oil is leading to global climate change that will have the effect of accelerating collapse and disorder.

So what are some of the national security implications of climate change allied to resource shortages? In terms of security, the outcomes are unrest and revolution, climate refugees and conflict and war.

Instability, unrest and revolution

In just the last few years we have watched from afar as nations across the globe have struggled with upheaval, revolution and internal strife. Many in the comfortable west probably put these conflicts down to tribal politics, racial hatreds or religious intolerance. Whilst these elements are undoubtedly present, religious ideals rarely lead to revolutions in the real world. From the Crusades onwards, people with extreme views on religion and race have taken advantage of conflicts already begun for other purposes. In the modern day we have seen this in Iraq, in Syria, and in Afghanistan, conflicts that began for other reasons but are now entrenched in the narrative of “sectarian warfare”.

At core, however, most or all of these conflicts can be attributed to the perfect storm of resource shortages and climate change. Let’s look at a few of the most current examples.

SYRIA

The core of the conflict in Syria is not, as some would have you believe, islamic militants trying to overthrow a democracy, nor a tyrant attempting to mercilessly crush freedom-fighters. The core of the issue is drought and food shortages.

Drought and agricultural collapse have forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians into the cities where they become dependent upon the government’s support. However, the government’s ability to support these climate refugees has collapsed along with the country’s economy. It doesn’t help that the regime is not sympathetic to the peoples’ needs. This combination of factors has led to a situation where, for many people, simple survival becomes a higher priority than good social behaviour.

If Syria had plentiful monetary resources and the willingness to spend, it could provide food and water for its people. Through purchasing food, desalinating water, irrigating and artificially managing its agriculture, it could deal with the challenges. But it is neither able nor willing to go down this path. The result, as we have seen, is civil war and a country in miserable turmoil. But they’re not alone.

THE ARAB SPRING

The Arab Spring had its roots in a water and food crisis. The series of uprisings across the middle east is held up as a shining example of populations attempting to throw off the shackles of oppressive masters, and to some extent there is some validity to this interpretation. But people will tolerate a lot of tyranny so long as they are comfortable. Freedom is not the panacea the US would have people believe. (This is why the Chinese people, on the whole, are very happy with their situation despite their lack of freedom: they have the comforts they require for daily living.) At the core of the Arab Spring was not a hunger for freedom, but simply hunger. The regimes were not living up to their side of the bargain.

THAILAND

In Thailand, drought and floods combined to hit domestic food supplies and food exports. Recovery from the floods, plus the hit to export revenue caused by the decimation of their food exports, combined with the country’s dependence on foreign oil to eat into the government’s ability to afford to meet the needs of its people now, let alone plan into the future for energy diversification and economic renewal.

This combination of factors has led to high levels of debt for the low-paid workers, high living costs and high unemployment. The eventual and inevitable result has been social unrest. In Thailand’s case this had led to martial law and, currently, to yet another military coup. But the people continue to suffer and while guns on the street may enforce order, they can’t address poverty and starvation.

EGYPT

For a final example, consider Egypt. Egypt also suffers water and food shortages. For decades it has been a net importer of food. When the price of wheat effectively doubled in 2010 and 2011, the result was swift and fateful. Mubarak fell in early 2011. That revolution, so full of hope at the time, has not led to the utopian society Egyptians hoped for, as it does nothing to address the core issues. In truth, the core issues are largely outside the scope of Egypt’s government to contend with.

“As energy accounts for over a third of the costs of grain production, high food prices are generally underpinned by high oil prices. Since 2005, world oil production has remained on an undulating plateau that has kept prices high, contributing to surging global food prices.
According to the New England Complex Systems Institute, if food prices go over a threshold of 210 on the FAO Food Price Index, the probability of civil unrest is greatly magnified.”

http://qz.com/116276/at-the-root-of-egyptian-rage-is-a-deepening-resource-crisis/

The FAO has been hovering at or above 210 since at least 2010. If climate change reduces global food output, inevitably the price of food will increase. If oil becomes scarcer or more expensive, the price of food will increase. To these issues, under the current system, there is no clear or easy resolution.

Conflict and war

Internal conflict is not the only outcome of resource shortages and climate change. As nations across the world find it harder to keep their populations supplied with the food, water, energy and goods that keep them happy, the pressures will increase to find and secure new sources. Despite the comforting narratives that keep western civilians believing that conflicts in far-flung and uncivilised nations are due to local religious squabbles, modern nations are very aware of the precarious nature of their power, and will be willing to go to great lengths to avoid travelling down the same path.

CONFLICTS OVER OIL

As a result, in the past decades we have seen conflicts in Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq explode into worldwide wars with the involvement of great powers. It is hardly a secret that America was not in Iraq primarily because of the sufferings of a few Iraqis, but because Saddam was not friendly to the oil needs of the US. Much of the current situation in Ukraine can also be attributed to Russia’s intent to secure oil reserves.

At the current moment there are territorial disputes across the South China sea: primarily, conflicts between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands, and between China and the Philippines over the Reed Bank. Even Australia is not immune from territorial disputes over oil: witness the dispute between Australia and Timor over the Timor Sea maritime boundary. Whilst all of these disputes are currently diplomatic, there have already been military incidents in some of them, and any of them could blow up into serious conflict. They will not be the last such disputes of this century.

CONFLICTS OVER FOOD AND WATER

Water shortages are arguably the greatest challenge facing the world of the immediate future. According to the UN, “…by 2025, two-thirds of us will experience water shortages, with nearly two billion suffering severe shortfalls.”

China is in perilous state with drought affecting its farmlands: it’s the world’s biggest user of imported water. “Land grabs” in Africa – and Australia – are intended not as assaults on those continents but are an attempt to secure productive land to grow food and ship it back home.

Attempts by China to procure land in Australia may be a false economy; there is a decent chance that Australia may soon be joining China in a need for fresh sources of fresh water and arable land. The oncoming El Nino may be salutary.

Desalination can play a part in providing for the water needs of cities and of agriculture. But desalination is energy-intensive and expensive, and requires a large amount of political capital. Things will need to get worse before the people will realise the need for things to get better.

CONFLICTS OVER TERRITORY

We live in a post-Empire world. In the modern era, nations do not generally invade or annex other nations for the sake of world domination; the world has reached a form of equilibrium and any such attempts would be roundly resisted. International conflicts now are driven by more prosaic concerns, such as the desire to secure energy and mineral resources.

In such a world, any unclaimed or untapped resources take on a greater level of significance. Currently, there are three major fields which may help nations address their ongoing needs, and it is in these fields that we are likely to see expansionist movements and potential conflicts over the next decades. These fields are the open ocean, Antarctica and space.

We are already seeing conflicts over claimed areas of ocean. We can expect to see ongoing exploration in international waters for new resource fields. However, in general, resources are both rarer and harder to extract when they are in international waters. Deep sea trenches were never landmasses, never supported forests and ecosystems, and thus hold little or no oil. Combine this with the fact that at present we find it difficult even to reach the ocean floor across much of the world – witness the fruitless search for MH370 – and drilling for oil or minerals across the ocean becomes a prohibitive challenge.

Similar challenges exist for space. Enormous resources and energy are required just to get there, let alone manage any attempts at extraction. However, even within our own solar system there are greater reserves of resources than our planet contains in its entirety. Space is the battleground of the future. It will not, however, be practically useful to nations in the first half of the 21st century.

Antarctica is protected by the Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits any change in territorial claims. The Madrid Protocol, an addendum to the Treaty, prevents mining within Antarctica. Treaties, as history has shown us, are made to be broken. Many nations have significant interest in the untapped resources of Antarctica and some are already beginning to explore and plan their exploitation of this continent on Australia’s doorstep. It seems likely, if not inevitable, that the next major battleground of the 21st century might be this southernmost continent – particularly as global warming potentially makes the continent more accessible and, eventually, suitable for habitation and agriculture.

Peak oil by any definition

Global social unrest and international warfare might be avoided if the world can continue to provide fresh reserves of oil to support our insatiable need for growth and industry. Unfortunately this is not going to be possible. Many commentators have discussed the concepts of peak oil; for decades the idea has been a looming threat. Official estimates have consistently denied that crisis is imminent, but it now appears that peak oil may be closer than anyone had hoped. The US seems to think so.

That we are at or near ‘peak oil’ is demonstrated by the industry’s continual push to open new resource fields and extraction methods, regardless of the expense and complexity. The end of the world’s access to cheap fossil fuel energy is a threat worthy of an article of its own – or perhaps even its own blog. Suffice it to say here that the price of oil, and the price of food, is not going to stop increasing any time soon.

With resource crises, food shortages, water shortages and increasing climatic disruption
caused by hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and floods, not to mention sea level rise over the
coming decades which will flood and permanently destroy huge swathes of the world’s low-lying agricultural lands, the 21st century is in the grip of a perfect storm of crises that have the potential to reshape the face of humanity on this planet far more quickly than most Australians realise.

What can Australia learn?

Both Syria and Egypt are finding that their economies are suffering due to a downturn in
fossil fuel exports – both due to depletion. Without the revenue from oil exports, these governments have found themselves less able to provide for the needs of their people. Australia needs to heed this example. We are not a heavy exporter of oil; however, our economy is heavily reliant on the export of coal and mineral resources. If these markets collapse, we will find ourselves in a parlous economic situation. The Abbott government is effectively pursuing an austerity budget even whilst the nation is not in economic crisis. As climate change and El Nino drive our farmers off the land and our food production inevitably declines over the rest of this decade, we will see increased demands on government resources. Diversifying our economy is absolutely vital.

The uprisings in the middle east may have been driven by economic and resource woes, but they were enabled by despotic regimes that did not do enough to support the needs of the people. Uprising became the only way out for populations on the edge of starvation.

Australia does not have an autocratic dictatorship in command – although it pains me to have to add the word “arguably”. Despite our inclusive system of politics, already we have seen social unrest with government policies and with the democratic process in general. Already we see protests against governments of both breeds. We’re a long way short of the critical mass of the people who would rebel against their government but the seeds are there. It is hubris to think that Australia could never suffer the kind of uprising that has been witnessed in Thailand or Egypt. It won’t happen in the next ten years; we’re still a prosperous nation. But the decisions made now will have impacts on the society and governance of the 2050s and beyond.

It is more likely, in the immediate term, that we will face the ramifications of unrest from neighboring regions than experience it ourselves. This will manifest as growing pressure to accept climate refugees, combined with an increasing range of domestic crises.

How will we respond?

Most of the current areas of unrest are in the middle east, for a reason. These regions suffer a combination of resource dependence, early effects of disruptive climate change, and despotic or immature regimes with too great a reliance on resources that are now declining.

Australia, for the moment, is buffered by our remote location, delaying the worst impacts of climate change; by our system of government and our existing social contract and social support structures; and by our relatively high standard of living. This gives us time to consider the future and our response to the oncoming challenges – if we choose to recognise them.

We have seen the trajectories of nations where these crises come together. With a little forethought, we can see our own nation’s weaknesses and start to plan wisely for the future.

An obvious and critical answer to all of these challenges is to divest from oil. Renewable energy is not just an answer to climate change; it’s a solution to the energy crisis that will affect us all. With efficient renewable energy, we can manage our water resources better, and this will allow us to secure our domestic food production. If we act now, we may be able to retain our standard of living.

Alternatively, we could dismantle our climate change bodies and our renewable energy institutions. We could defund solar and wind power, while funnelling ever greater subsidies into fossil fuels in an attempt to shore up our revenues for a few more years. We could leave the challenges of the oncoming food, fuel and water crises to future governments and future generations.

Yes, I guess we could do that.

Bioenergy is not a dirty word

World Bioenergy 2014 (image by geosynthetica.net)

World Bioenergy 2014 (image by geosynthetica.net)

World Bioenergy is the leading global meeting place in the bioenergy sector. The World Bioenergy 2014 conference is currently underway and Australia is represented by a small number of people including Sophie Gebhardt, who provided The AIM Network with this article. Sophie writes “that with the dismantling of the various climate/renewable energy agencies by the current government, it would seem critical that Australians began to entertain the potential of other forms of renewable energy to add to wind and solar, further decreasing the reliance on fossil fuels”. Given its environmental and political importance, we eagerly await the outcome of this conference.

One of the significant barriers to the development of renewable energy in Australia is the ongoing politicisation of the discussion and, indeed, of the funding and investment in technology, manufacturing and infrastructure. A recent spoof in The Onion — ‘Scientists Politely Remind World That Clean Energy Technology Ready To Go Whenever’ — draws painful attention to the fact that the technology is all there, were it not for the political and vested interests in perpetuating the fossil fuel industry that are unwittingly abetted by forces that consider themselves to be ‘environmentalists’.

In Australia, bioenergy would seem to have suffered most from this climate of partisanship, having been excluded from eligibility for small-scale Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) since 2010. This exclusion was by and large the result of a misinformation campaign led by The Greens, backed up by various environmental groups, during the negotiations around expanding the RET scheme under the Rudd government in 2009. The term ‘bioenergy’ became almost inextricably linked to the campaign to halt the native forestry industry in Australia. It became, to the detriment of Australia’s renewable energy mix, a dirty word. As a result, the vast majority of Australians are fundamentally unaware of the potential of biomass (organic waste) as a source of renewable power, heat and fuel. It is, in fact, the only renewable energy source that can provide all three forms of energy. As a result, the vast majority of Australians are fundamentally unaware of the potential of biomass (all material of biological origin, including municipal/industrial waste) as a source of renewable power, heat and fuel.

With the Abbott government’s review of the RET about to begin, monumentally stacked as it is against the future of renewables in Australia, the time would seem ripe to initiate a more public discussion of bioenergy. Adding bioenergy to wind and solar would mean adding a renewable that is able to provide on-demand heat and electricity plus transport fuels. Solar and wind are both intermittent and relatively expensive sources of electricity only. And adding bioenergy to wind and solar dramatically increases the force of the scientific and economic arguments for renewable energy; arguments that are beginning to take hold in very real ways worldwide. It is to a number of northern and central European countries that we need to turn to witness the critical contribution bioenergy is making to the reduction of carbon emissions and the move towards a society no longer reliant on fossil fuels.

I’ll be joining a group of four other Australians at the World Bioenergy 2014 conference in Jönköping, Sweden. The trip to the conference has been pulled together by Andrew Lang, a farmer and farm forester from Victoria’s Western District, Australasian-Oceania representative on the World Bioenergy Association, and a tireless campaigner for the logic of utilising biomass for energy. Matt Prendergast and Shaun Quayle from Bendigo-based land management business Enviro Control Australia are also attending the conference, with the specific intent of increasing their knowledge of utilising woody biomass and green waste for heat and power generation. Tasmanian Liz Smith, Huon Valley Councillor and former biological science researcher and teacher, is travelling to Sweden to learn about the potential of small-scale biomass heating plants for use in Tasmania. For myself, attending the conference is an opportunity to consolidate an interest and learning curve that began a number of years ago, when I began writing and reading about significant steps that were being taken around the world in utilising biomass for energy, heat and fuel.

The location of World Bioenergy 2014 is not surprising, given Sweden is leading the way in transforming both its energy system and economy to one based in renewables. Of the latter, biomass provides over 34% of Sweden’s final energy (that is, energy actually utilised). This includes about 10% of the national electricity requirement, over 50% of heat energy (including in industry), and the balance is in the form of transport fuels. Sweden’s target, with biomass making up 39% of final energy by 2020, is on track to be exceeded; some municipalities are already sourcing nearly 90% of their energy from biomass. Overall, Sweden aims to be running on 49% renewable energy by 2020; again, the country looks set to exceed this target. Andrew Lang provides a more detailed insight into the wonders of Sweden’s bioenergy industry in his article, ‘Australians Are Mushrooms – Please, Pass the Horse Manure’.

In Australia, with its broad mix of agriculture, dense urban centres and steadily expanding plantation and farm forestry industry, there is the potential to utilise a full range of bioenergy feedstocks, including forestry residues, municipal putrescible waste, straw, sugar cane bagasse, paper and pulp waste, purpose-grown ‘energy crops’, and on and on. In the context of the RET review and the Abbott government’s deeply partisan approach to climate change, there are signs that renewables might have to ‘go it alone’ in this country, proving their viability through sheer economies of scale. Australia’s lack of serious engagement in bioenergy, as a vital addition to our abundant solar and wind, is like looking a gift horse in the mouth.

One of the motivations behind the trip is to bring expertise on bioenergy back to Australia in order to add to the mix of renewables that are beginning to put pressure on coal and gas. Under the Rudd Government, bioenergy was excluded from the RET because of the misrepresentation by The Greens that biomass equalled using fuel from native forests. This set development of a bioenergy industry in Australia well behind other countries, including Europe, the US, where combined heat and power plants are used widely throughout the east coast and north west; similarly NZ is way ahead of Australia in using plantation waste to generate heat and cooling.

Now, with the review of the RET and the dismantling of the various climate/renewable energy agencies by the current government, it would seem critical that Australians began to entertain the potential of other forms of renewable energy to add to wind and solar, further decreasing the reliance on fossil fuels.

Sophie Gebhardt is a Melbourne-based writer, environmentalist, gardener and blogger at The Buzz: Gardening & Living in a Changing Climate – www.urbangardenguerilla.com.

 

 

The Coalition Plan for a Better Australia

The first thing we need to do is get rid of the toxic carbon tax.  It is destroying the joint.  After all, emissions went up.  Ok, I know that greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector are down about 7.6 per cent since the carbon tax was introduced, or the equivalent of about 14.8 million tonnes, and that demand has dropped as businesses and individuals adopt energy efficiency methods, but emissions from coalmine expansion and new gas plants have been soaring.  And that’s what we want!  More coal and more gas to make our country better.

And as for renewable energy, competition like that is bad for the country.  It puts up prices.  I know normally one would consider competition a good thing but not in this case.  Have you seen those wind farms?  They are U.G.L.Y they ain’t got no alibi they ugly uh huh they ugly.  I know there was some talk of 1 million solar roofs before the election.  That information was purely a discussion paper that was inadvertently leaked by a junior staffer who has since been counselled.

And that mining tax has to go because it is stopping investment.  It may not have raised much money but it has scared off mining companies who will take our resources offshore to develop more cheaply – I’m not sure how, but they will.  Don’t you worry about THAT, you people.

It’s a well-known fact that people don’t appreciate something unless they have to pay for it.  I don’t mean you people who are fraudulently claiming business usage on your cars – we know you love your BMWs.  I mean those lollygagging sick people.  We will introduce a luxury tax on doctor’s visits and medications so sick people will truly appreciate the help the doctors and chemists are giving them.

It is also obvious that we can no longer accommodate all those people who are claiming they are old because of some vague family connection in the past.  Far too many people have been using their age to claim entitlements that the rest of us don’t receive.  To stamp out this reverse discrimination we have changed the definition of old to “too old to work”.  Rather than seeking handouts, we will liberate those who were previously known as old to seek work usually given to other age brackets or to retrain for a new career.  Training fees will be deducted from their estate.

Our greatest priority is to defend our borders against everyone and everything – asylum seekers, sharks, coral – who knows what deadly menace is around the corner and under a tree.  To that end we are amassing squadrons of attack fighter jets, packs of submarines, armadas of orange life rafts, and a whole fleet of fishermen with mates and eskies.  They will complement our Navy who patrol our Northern Shores searching for boats that have stopped and our Airforce who patrol the Southern Oceans searching for the Mary Celeste.  This will be given an unlimited budget that will go up by whatever the generals ask for each year.

We are conscripting our youth into a homeland defence force known as the Green Army which can be deployed to any mine that may be a possible target for whoever is invading – maybe the crown of thorn starfish who already knows that Greg Hunt means business!

To help the unemployed get jobs, we will make everyone part-time, pay them less, and make them move away from family who could provide accommodation and friends who could help with transport or share the cost of living.  Those who choose to commute, we will make them truly appreciate the cost of petrol by increasing the fuel excise so we can build more roads.  This will not apply to anyone making over $1 billion a year.

To show that we are all making sacrifices, rich women will only be given $1,923 a week to have babies.  Corporate Australia will pay for this through a 1.5% levy on some businesses in conjunction with a 1.5% decrease in company tax for all businesses.  That should work….I think.

Any shortfall between government revenue and the subsidies and tax breaks that we give to mining companies, banks, private health insurers, and Gina, will be made up equally by all those who earn over $80,000 who don’t have an accountant.  Those of you who do have an accountant may continue negative gearing because you are the rock upon which this nation is built.

This is our vision, this is our mission…..

Vive les riches!

I refuse to live in fear!

The tactic of a bully is to keep their victims living in fear of what could happen so they are grateful when they don’t get beaten or abused. They make their victim believe they are powerless by cutting them off from their support and telling them only the bully can look after them. This is exactly what our own government is doing. It is their tactic of choice in so many areas.

In the past, Australia was a country who willingly offered safe haven to refugees. We recognised their need for a home which complemented our need for population growth. As time passed, the contribution made to our society by those we embraced became obvious and we are the richer for it in so many ways. We are a wealthy multicultural society who used to lend a hand. Those days are gone.

We must spend whatever it takes, and alienate whoever we must, and inflict terrible physical and mental harm, to save the nation from the invading hordes of asylum seekers who will threaten our way of life. They will impose Sharia law, take your jobs, clog up your roads and hospitals, and are just waiting for a chance to kill you. Yes I am sure that’s why they are fleeing their homelands, leaving family and friends, risking their lives on unseaworthy vessels – just so they can come and turn Australia into what they are escaping from.

I do not fear refugees and we can easily accommodate 30,000 a year if not more. We should be welcoming them, assuring them they are safe now, and assisting them to become productive members of our society.

Climate change is real. It is not a conspiracy by bankers for world domination. It is not collusion by scientists to get funding. It is not a fake perpetrated by the IPCC. I refuse to believe the conspiracy theories though I am terrified by the consequences of our inaction. The government has inculcated fear about carbon pricing into the community – Whyalla will be wiped off the map, lamb roasts will cost $100, the cost of living will skyrocket – none of which happened.  They tell us that wind farms are bad for our health and when that didn’t run, they revert to they are ugly?

We were told that the mining tax would hinder investment in Australia with investment and jobs going offshore. This scare campaign was also a lie. We have the resources and a stable economy, the investors are banging on our door. The high Aussie dollar caused by the success of the mining industry is what is hurting jobs and sending industries offshore, but Hockey hastened to reassure the miners that they will not have any of their subsidies cut or tax increased.  In ‘fear’ of the miners choosing to rape another country instead, we have gotten rid of our environmental protections and given virtually open slather for the short term cash grab of developing our finite resources.

Our country is not broke. Using great big numbers about possible debt in ten years’ time and inflated deficit figures is purely designed to scare us. Why do that? Don’t you want business and consumer confidence? This scare campaign is purely political to exaggerate the problem, blame it on Labor, and use it as an excuse to implement their corporate agenda and social engineering.

People struggling on the old age and disability pensions are terrified about the recommendations from the Commission of Audit. We can reassure the miners but we cannot reassure the pensioners. They have to wait in fear so when they only have to pay $6 instead of the recommended $15 as a co-payment to the doctor they will feel grateful.

We are told that our health system is unsustainable yet the government didn’t ask the people in the industry how it could be improved. We straight away go to the scare campaign of we can’t afford this so you must pay. The experts have said there are many ways that expenditure could be better spent and areas of waste that could be eliminated but starting with preventative health is patently counter-productive.

The same applies to the old age pension. We have now scared everyone by saying they will have to work to 70 yet once again the experts disagree with the fear campaign being spread. Hockey said the number of people aged 65-84 would quadruple by 2050. The ABS says otherwise. They do three predictions – high, low, and medium – their high range estimate is 2.5 times growth in that age bracket. Hockey predicted that only 37 per cent of the population would be of working age in 2050, yet the best available estimates from the ABS show it is in fact between 61 and 63 per cent.

The scare campaign about unions is the government’s way of cutting us off from our support. What collective voice do the people have other than the unions? Who offers protection for our workplace rights other than unions? Who can represent individuals other than unions? Reducing the minimum wage or the availability of Newstart is not the best way to tackle unemployment. There are so many better ways like investing in new industries such as renewable energy, and investing in education and supporting research to develop the industries of the future – something we have been amazingly good at in the past.

George Brandis even wants to change the law to protect bigots and bullies.  Apparently they have every right to offend and humiliate people.  What sort of crazy backward thinking is this, done in the name of freedom?  Next, will we be defending the rights of countries to commit human rights abuses?  Oh, wait……

We must stand up to this government who consciously, willingly lies to its own citizens to keep them in unnecessary fear. We must point out their crazy priorities where we waste hundreds of billions on fossil fuel subsidies, tax rebates for superannuation and private health insurance, fighter jets, paid parental leave, grants to polluters, Operation Sovereign Borders, lifetime gold passes and entitlements for politicians, political advertising and campaigning and the like, while insisting that our most vulnerable must live in poverty and fear. We must expose their lies about debt, deficit, and the affordability of our health and welfare system.

You are the one who should be afraid Tony – be vewwy afwaid – because I refuse to live in fear and will do everything in my power to make sure the Australian people know the truth so we can protect ourselves from the bully by ending this relationship at the first opportunity.

Bullying-stands-for

A job application to Clive Palmer

Clive Palmer (image by news.com.au)

Clive Palmer (image by news.com.au)

Dear Mr Clive Palmer,

May I call you Mr? It’s not Sir Clive yet is it? I’m sure it will be in the offing should you aspire to a knighthood – it’s Tony’s best reward for pre-eminent people like you.

May I congratulate and commiserate with you on your entry into the sordid world of politics. I have watched your campaign and realised that you are a man who wants to get things done, a trait I admire. You have also said things that echoed with me like being a representative for the little people, the people without a voice. Some other things, not so much, but it would be a bad move for me to begin an application with criticism.

Your Senators now carry a grave responsibility – just ask Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott about that. With the balance of power they need to be familiar with every bill and every amendment. It’s a huge workload. I saw that Tony Abbott refused your request for extra personnel to help with the legislative workload, which is what prompted me to apply to help out. I will work for free for a period and if Tony changes his mind about that, and you find my work valuable, then a small stipend would be most helpful.

Obviously the carbon tax is a big issue that will require your attention in the immediate future. I have taken the opportunity to provide a brief summary for the Senators’ perusal with attached links should they require further reading. I am also happy to answer any questions should you or any of your iron force have one.

CARBON TAX

1. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim called for a price on carbon, requiring companies to disclose their climate risk exposure, and greater investment in green bonds in the fight against climate change.

2. The planet is “perilously close” to a climate change tipping point, and requires urgent cooperation between countries, cities and business, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde has said. Addressing an audience in London, Lagarde said reducing subsidies for fossil fuels and pricing carbon pollution should be priorities for governments around the world.

“Overcoming climate change is obviously a gigantic project with a multitude of moving parts. I would just like to mention one component of it—making sure that people pay for the damage they cause. We are subsidizing the very behaviour that is destroying our planet, and on an enormous scale. Both direct subsidies and the loss of tax revenue from fossil fuels ate up almost $2 trillion in 2011—this is about the same as the total GDP of countries like Italy or Russia.”

3. John Kerry has described the UN’s latest report on the science of climate change as “chilling” and warns of a “potential catastrophe” without urgent action. The US Secretary of State made the remarks at the annual Munich Security Conference held at the weekend, citing terrorism, radical sectarianism, food security, water availability, and climate change as the “great tests of our time.”

Kerry also highlighted the potential financial benefits of moving to a low carbon economy, pointing to the $6 trillion energy market that will gain an extra five billion users by 2050. “It is the mother of all markets, and only a few visionaries are doing what is necessary to reach out and touch it and grab it and command its future,” he said.

Kerry warned of an “absence of collective leadership” from politicians where the environment is concerned. “We have enormous challenges. None of them are unsolvable. “That’s the agony of this moment for all of us. There are answers to all of these things, but there seems to be an absence of will, an absence of collective leadership,” he said.

4. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN climate secretariat, said that it was amoral for people to look at climate change from a politically partisan perspective, because of its impact on future generations.

Figueres said that examples of recent extreme weather around the world were a sign climate change was here now. “If you take them individually you can say maybe it’s a fluke. The problem is it’s not a fluke and you can’t take them individually. What it’s doing is giving us a pattern of abnormality that’s becoming the norm. These very strange extreme weather events are going to continue in their frequency and their severity … It’s not that climate change is going to be here in the future, we are experiencing climate change.”

5. The independent Climate Change Authority, which advises on climate change action around the world, called for Australia to lift its emissions reductions goal from 5 per cent to 19 per cent to take into account international moves, Australia’s fair share and the urgency of the climate change threat.

Professor Garnaut believes the ultimate cost to the budget of the Abbott government’s climate policy could be much greater than $4 billion a year, given many countries are committing to more ambitious emissions reduction targets.

6. Senate Committee: Direct Action

Recommendation 1

2.63 The committee recommends that the Australian Government immediately adopt the emissions reduction targets outlined by the Climate Change Authority in its final report released on 27 February 2014. Namely that Australia’s 2020 minimum emissions reduction target be set at 15% below 2000 levels and that Australia’s carryover from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol be used to raise the 2020 emissions reduction target by 4%, giving a total 2020 target of 19%.

Recommendation 5

3.143     The committee recommends that the transition of the fixed carbon price to a fully flexible price under an emissions trading scheme with the price determined by the market occur on 1 July 2014.

Recommendation 10

5.129   The committee recommends that the Emissions Reduction Fund not be substituted for the carbon pricing mechanism.

7. Growing numbers of investors and now being attracted by three key benefits of wind farms:

•Social Responsibility: Investing in clean renewable energy is socially responsible

•Lower Risk: Now that thousands of wind farms exist globally, construction and operational risks are very low.

•Longevity: Long term demand for renewable energy will increase driven by declining fossil fuel sources and carbon reduction policies.

8. National solar provider Energy Matters has released consumer insights that rank cities for solar viability and also reveal the true investment potential of solar power in comparison to shares, property, gold, global fixed interest or even fine art.

The figures will startle many; with it outperforming all other investment options using current ASX figures and other key organisations that rate investment opportunities.

The consumer insights also revealed Townsville in Queensland was Australia’s top address for solar, giving its residents a healthy return of investment of 21.8% per year. Other mainland capital cities included Brisbane (annual return of investment of 20.2%), Adelaide (19.1%), Sydney (18.9%), Perth 17.8%) and Melbourne (13.2%).

9. The solar PV industry employed about 13,600 as of late 2013, and the number will sink this year to about 12,300 across about 4300 businesses as state-based subsidies are wound back, according to a report for the REC Agents Association, a body representing firms that create and trade in renewable energy certificates.

The solar workforce, though, would dive immediately by 2000 if the government were to end support for the industry by scrapping the RET, with the total number of jobs lost or foregone swelling to 6750 by 2018, analysis of the research by industry group SolarBusinessServices found.

 10. China is spending billions to control air pollution, banning imports of low-grade coal, launching carbon-trading markets, exploring shale gas, getting more efficient, and building the crap out of renewables. And remember, it has its own coal mines. They just couldn’t keep up with the boom. Now that things are leveling off, domestic Chinese coal will get cheaper, they’ll buy more of it at home, and there will be less market for imports.

Since China was the main driver, its rapid deceleration will serve as a drag on the whole seaborne coal market. Goldman Sachs analysts “expect average annual growth (in demand) to decline to 1% in 2013-17 from 7% in 2007-12.”

No less an investor than the mighty Warren Buffett has proclaimed that the decline of coal in the U.S. will be gradual but inevitable. Given flat demand for electricity, cheap natural gas, burgeoning renewables, rising efficiency, and future carbon regulations, new coal-fired power plants are a bad bet, which is why they aren’t getting built.

11.  Economists are convinced that carbon pricing will yield the greatest environmental bang-for-buck at the lowest economic cost.

Recommendations:

  1. Get rid of your investments in coal and invest in renewable energy

  2. Move to a floating price ETS on July 1 either this year or next (preferably next)

  3. Increase our emission reduction target to 19% and confirm our renewable energy target of 20% by 2020

  4. Under no circumstances allow Tony Abbott to waste taxpayer money on that silly Emissions Reduction Fund bribery to polluters

  5. Give me a job

I hope this has been of use to you and your Senators in getting up to speed on the issue. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future to discuss terms of employment.

Yours faithfully

Kaye Lee

Dame-in-waiting

PS  I looked into your idea about reducing natural greenhouse gas emissions but have been unable to think of a way to stop respiration, evaporation, organic rotting, volcanoes or farting, but I will keep working on it.  By the by, cutting down trees is not a good start.

Renewable Energy Makes Tony sick.

pollution

Since the introduction of the carbon price in July 2012, emissions from the National Electricity Market serving eastern Australia have fallen about 8.9 per cent, in part due to less demand from a shrinking manufacturing sector.  By 2020, under current projections, wind, hydro and other renewable sources will supply more than 20 per cent , perhaps as high as 27 per cent, of our electricity needs.

So we appear to be on track.  But, in what appears to be an increasingly common loathing for anything to do with tracks or Labor or anything green (unless it’s a paper abolishing regulations), Tony looks set to derail us again.

He has announced he will head an energy policy task force that will be “looking at new options to reduce the costs of energy.”  He has also renamed the Australian Cleantech Competition – it will now be known as the Australian Technologies Competition.

“We have to accept that in the changed circumstances of today, the renewable energy target is causing pretty significant price pressure in the system and we ought to be an affordable energy superpower … cheap energy ought to be one of our comparative advantages … what we will be looking at is what we need to do to get power prices down significantly,” the prime minister said.

The Australian Energy Market Commission says the renewable energy target (RET) comprises less than 1 percent of the average household electricity bill.  The Queensland Competition Authority notes in its latest finding that the large-scale renewable target (the apparent subject of the new government’s attacks) will cost Queensland households $26 a year, or about 1.3% of their bills — about half the rise in retail bills caused by soaring gas prices.

Climate Institute chief executive Erwin Jackson said

“For a cost of 80 cents a week for the average household, the RET has attracted billions of dollars in investment and cut millions of tons of emissions. That’s a pretty good investment.”

Kane Thornton, deputy chief executive of the Clean Energy Council agrees saying

“Any substantial change to the Renewable Energy Target would obviously have a big impact on the future of the solar industry.  The goal makes up a very small proportion of power bills while creating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment, much of which flows into regional areas.”

The solar PV industry employed about 13,600 as of late 2013.  Research by industry group SolarBusinessServices suggested that would dive immediately by 2000 if the government were to end support for the industry by scrapping the RET, with the total number of jobs lost or foregone swelling to 6750 by 2018.  A reduction on the goal that resulted in the halving of the price of small-scale renewable energy certificates would lead to about 600 solar jobs going.

With no policy change, 8000 jobs will be generated between 2014-18, assuming a floating carbon price – something the Abbott government has vowed to scrap – and electricity and PV prices would continue to fall, the report said.

Solar panels generated more than 25 per cent of South Australia’s electricity on January 4, 19 and 25 and supplied significant amounts during the state’s recent heatwaves, according to a new service supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency that tracks PV’s contribution to power supply.

In yet another waste of time and money, the Abbott Government has also announced yet another pointless inquiry into the health impacts of windfarms even though the overwhelming scientific consensus is that wind turbines have no health effects on the surrounding populations.  Could it be because Tony’s adviser on all things, Maurice Newman, doesn’t want them near his property?

“Even before they threatened my property, I was opposed to wind farms.”

The Abbott government have also cut $435 million funding to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and deferred $370 million funding announced by Labor in the 2013 budget to the agency, until the next decade.

Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Tony Mohr said:

“The axing of $435 million from ARENA will starve research and development of clean energy in Australia, moving us to the back of the global race for clean tech.”

Australian Solar Council chief John Grimes called on the Parliament to block any attempt to gut the agency.

“The work that ARENA does is an excellent example of direct action,” he said. “This independent agency, with its annual funding prescribed in legislation, back practical programs. This is about real action in the real world.”

In another incomprehensible move, the government has decided to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation which was set to invest $10 billion in low-carbon technologies, while achieving up to half the government’s emissions reduction target, and return a profit to the budget.

“The strong positive response from the market has enabled the CEFC to successfully build a total loan portfolio of $536 million funding projects with a value of over $2.2 billion.

Our portfolio represents a diverse mix across the economy, with projects comprising 56 per cent of renewables, 30 per cent in energy efficiency and 14 per cent in low emissions technologies. We have financed projects involving wind, solar, and bioenergy across Australia (both on grid and off grid), as well as energy efficiency and low emissions technology projects in manufacturing, buildings and local government.

The CEFC portfolio of contracted investments is presently expected to earn an average return of approximately 7 per cent, around 4 per cent above our benchmark return of the Government five-year bond rate.

Co-financing is integral to our strategy. Through matched private sector funds of $2.90 for each $1 of CEFC investment, the CEFC has been able to catalyse over $1.55 billion in non-CEFC private capital investment in projects and programs to deploy renewables and to improve energy efficiency.

The response that we have received from the market has remained extremely encouraging and we currently have 179 project proponents in our pipeline for projects to the estimated value of $14.9 billion.”

The march towards renewable energy is inevitable yet we are being held back by Tony’s ties to the fossil fuel industry which is determined to place every impediment in the way to prolong their profit-making at the expense of our jobs, our health and our home.

Talkin’ bout a revolution revisited

Image by justinian.com.au

Image by justinian.com.au

A guest post by mikestasse. “The general population doesn’t know what’s happening, and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know . . .
I would have more confidence in optimism if the optimists lived wisely!
A pessimist is a well informed optimist!
All you need is less . . . “

To say Russell Brand has had an impact on the blogosphere would be the understatement of the year.  His notion that we should all stop voting has brought out all the people who don’t, those who are thinking about it, and those who think the whole idea is the abandonment of hard won liberty and democracy . . .

The crux of Brand’s position on our systems of government really resonated with me when he told Paxman in that now infamous BBC interview “Well I don’t think it’s working very well, Jeremy. Given that the planet is being destroyed. Given that there is economic disparity of a huge degree. What are you saying? There’s no alternative? There’s no alternative? Just this system?”

The system (I call it the Matrix…) is indeed broken.  I was prompted to write this article by OzFenric’s assertion that Democracy had been poisoned by Capitalism.  As it happens, I totally agree.  But how did this come about?  I’m old enough to remember when this wasn’t so…..  I’m starting to think that Capitalism really went berserk once Communism was defeated with the fall of the USSR and the demolition of the Berlin Wall.  Unconstrained by the cold war, Capitalism decided to take us lefties on, and not just take us on, but convert us.  And it largely worked.  At the last election, the Socialist Party garnered 0.07% of the vote . . . yet right wing micro parties did far far better than that.  Was winning the socialist ‘struggle’ meant to be us becoming Capitalists?

With roughly twice as many years under my belt as Brand, I can remember all sorts of things he doesn’t even know occurred.  Trivial things.  Like the fact that in my twenties, one never heard about the stock market as part of ‘the news’.  Nor the price of gold or oil, unless of course we were having a less trivial oil shock because the US hit Peak Oil and the Arabs wouldn’t sell them their oil at the ridiculously low price of the time, causing gold to reach $800 an ounce . . . I remember those things, but I also remember not understanding them.  I was too busy having fun, and no I wasn’t doing drugs like Brand.  Once that crisis passed, nobody mentioned the price of gold or oil again; well not for another 10 or 15 years.  Now it’s a substantial section of ‘the news’.

A lot of things have changed in my sixty odd years.  I clearly remember us only having one car, a Renault that was so small the whole family couldn’t fit in it.  And the only reason we even had this car was that it was supplied to my father by his employer to do his work for them.  I remember having no phone (of any kind), no TV, no fridge, no lounge, no house of our own, in fact we had almost nothing.  I remember an absolutely epic trip when I was eight years old, moving from the south of France to Belgium in my father’s Citroen (you know, the type they use in Maigret and WWII films…)  In this car we shoe horned my parents (someone had to drive!), my grandmother, five kids and all our belongings…  Everything.  One thousand kilometres with the boot roped up to stay shut and the roof rack having to be adjusted forward again every few hundred k’s because it was sliding backwards in the wind drag.

With two more siblings born in Belgium, by 1963 my Communist parents decided they’d had enough, and sought asylum in Australia looking for a better future.  The rest as they say . . .

Looking back fifty years, it would be easy to say Capitalism was good to us.

There’s an old saying:  “If you’re not a socialist at 20, you haven’t got a heart.  If you’re still a socialist at 50, you haven’t got any money”.  That must explain why the Socialist Party only received 0.07% of the vote at the last election.  I don’t know why they bother.  I mean, you have to get at least 0.5% of the vote like the Motoring Enthusiast Party to have any chance of getting into the Senate…!  But I digress.

Raised in a Communist household, you’d think my future was sealed, but after ten years working as a public servant after leaving school, I decided to have a crack at Capitalism and started my own business.  During the eighties, which even though that decade started under the conditions of the aforementioned oil shock and the Howard induced recession, was one of the fastest growing periods known to Homo Capitalus.  I single handedly managed to grow my photographic studio from nothing to $150,000 a year turnover in just eight years.  I really thought I was made.  For a brief period, I even abandoned Socialism!  I was rich . . . well I felt rich.  In reality, I was seriously indebted….  This could never end, now could it….?  My naivety knew no bounds, but was soon enough shaken by the ‘recession we had to have’.  Much of my work came from advertising agencies which fostered insatiable growth and consumerism, and once people started losing their jobs, people stopped consuming, and advertising budgets collapsed.  As did my business.  Was this all that the much heralded Capitalism I had embraced meant to achieve?  Failure . . . ?

What followed, for me at least, was a mid-life crisis (you know, the one I was never going to have) entwined with the discovery of environmentalism.  Two books changed my life.  Ted Trainer’s ‘Abandon Affluence’, and the Club of Rome’s ‘Limits to Growth Report’.  I was blown away by the fact that the utter unsustainability of Capitalism had completely escaped my attention.  What was wrong with me?  How could I even have worked for the evil advertising industry?  Yet every man and his dog was hard at denigrating those anti growth books; we can’t have reality getting in the way of unfettered profits, now can we . . .

At this stage, still full of optimism and wanting to change the world, I retrained in Renewable Energy technology, and joined the Greens.  I abandoned affluence and Capitalism, sold all my crap, rid myself of all debts, and downsized like you wouldn’t believe.

Whilst I at first believed our looming predicaments could in fact be fixed, what I really learned was that it was all too late.  Why I believe this would take far far more space than an article like this can allow, but it’s all in my blog.  The numbers simply do not stack up . . .

Since Capitalism converted all of us lefties to embrace affluence, the growth of the economy and population means we are fast approaching uncontrollable climate change.  In cyberspace, there are two kinds of blogs I now realise.  Those like this one that debate politics and environmental issues – without really knowing the enormity of the predicaments looming on the horizon – and the doomerblogs, like mine, run by people who ‘get it’.  There’s even a whole bunch discussing ‘Near Term Human Extinction’, now known by its own acronym, NTHE.  Never heard of it?  Look it up . . . fascinating stuff, might even make you think voting is a waste of time!

“Getting it” is quite a process.  I’ve been at it now for close on twenty years.  I don’t expect anyone reading this to suddenly ‘get it’.  It’s all about the numbers; they simply do not add up . . . I just can’t say this enough.  Once you truly realise what ‘they’ have done to us, and the environment, once you truly understand the mathematics of exponential growth, once you understand what a scam the whole debt economy is, and once you realise that ‘they’ will do nothing about it (even though they know . . . ) because there are no solutions apart from ‘them’ losing their wealth and power . . . you too may well start thinking voting is a complete waste of time.

I don’t know what Brand knows.  I reckon if he came here for dinner, we could have a doozy of a conversation.  But Brand’s gut feeling is right.  We need a revolution.  It could so easily be a bloodless one too . . . What the next system needs to be like will be worked out after a serious shake up of the establishment.  Capitalism is doomed to fail, just like every other ponzi scheme ever dreamed up before it has failed.  There will be a lot of people walking around like zombies in the streets wondering WTF happened . . . and we the zombies outnumber ‘them’ a million to one (they are not really the 1% at all), ‘they’ do not stand a chance.  ‘They’ are shit scared I reckon.  Hence all this cyber spying and neo fascist nonsense we are beginning to read about everywhere.  The next ism will have to be invented.  I don’t know how it will turn out any more than Brand does.  But everything’s about to change, and most people have no idea.  And they vote.  Still.

mikestasse’s blog can be found at: http://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/

 

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

‘FREE’ Election Policies Form Guide

abbott policies

I was an admirer of Julia Gillard. What I liked most was her devotion to sound progressive Labor policies that were forward looking and would serve the common good. In her short stint as Prime Minister she oversaw more policy reform (in a minority parliament) than most long serving governments. By any standards her policy legacy stands unique among any of her predecessors. And surely that is what governing is all about. Good policy that improves the wellbeing of every Australian. The fact is that regardless of whoever wins the forthcoming election the winners will find themselves implementing some Gillard policy.

As a political strategist she out positioned the leader of the opposition leaving no big ticket policies for him to pursue and I might add no funds anyway. Therefore in commenting on policy in general this conversation concentrates itself mainly on the government’s proposals. Having said that it might be unfair on the opposition given that the campaign has not yet started. Who knows they might pull a policy rabbit out of the hat. After all they have had three years to develop them.

When we vote a number of factors come into play. A particular allegiance to one or the other parties and its ideology. A like or dislike for one or the other candidate can persuade us. A leader’s character. A hip pocket ‘’what’s in it for me’’ mentality. Or even a one policy agenda such as ‘’Marriage Equality’’.

However policy is important to most people. In this election they are confronted with a number of policy proposals that will determine Australia’s future. Mr Abbott has vowed to oppose everything so the voters have a clear choice. Traditionally the areas of economy, health and education have been of major importance to the electorate but from time to time nation changing or indeed moral issues are added to the mix.

This election is significant in the policy sense because some of the election policies being proposed will have far reaching consequences for the nation and its future.

Now let’s look at the election policies that are on the table and way them up as best we can. I don’t propose to be long winded about each one. Just too randomly list each one and make a few comments.

• Education funding: The opposition education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, has had some conflicting things to say on his party’s policy. The one certain thing is that they don’t have one. He has said that they would repeal Labor’s Gonski funding package. His leader has stated that it would go ahead if Labor could get all the states to sign up. Pyne has also said that they are happy with the current funding arrangements until something better comes along. The Gonski proposals offer equality of opportunity and have wide public support. In the absence of any policy from the opposition it’s a one horse race.

• Climate change: The Prime Minister has pulled the rug from under Tony Abbott’s feet by dumping” the carbon tax and bringing forward a floating carbon pricing scheme. You can argue whether that is good for the environment but it is smart politics. Abbott can no longer shout his carbon tax slogans. But a bigger problem for him is his own policy. Or lack of one. What he has now has been thoroughly discredited by all and sundry. To quote Lenore Taylor in The Guardian.

‘’Business is desperate to know how the 2009 Direct Action policy will actually work, but usually emerge from meetings with the Coalition spokesman, Greg Hunt, with few answers. Hunt has promised a white paper after the election to flesh out the details, with legislation to be finalised within six months of a Coalition term.’’

I might add that Mr Abbott’s own goal statement ”what an emission trading scheme is all about, it’s a market, a so-called market, in the non-delivery of an invisible substance, to no one.” Follows his previous similar statement where he dismissed carbon dioxide as an “invisible, odourless, weightless, tasteless substance”. Statements such as these conclusively but him in the climate change official nutter’s category. We can only conclude that the LNP has no policy at all.

Dr Harley Wright Principal at Climate Sense put it rather succinctly:

I plead to the Coalition to come to its senses and deal with this serious issue seriously. Stop playing political games with our descendants’ future. A return to a responsible, bipartisan approach would be welcomed, possibly respected, all-round.

NBN: If we go back to when Abbott appointed Malcolm Turnbull as opposition shadow communications minister it was, if I am not mistaken for the purpose of “destroying” the NBN. That’s what Abbott in his Luddite naivety wanted. When exactly the realisation took place that the Internet has a vital place in our world took place, is unknown. But apparently it did. And so they made their policy announcement in the studios of Murdoch’s Fox Studios.

The next morning I did my early morning scan of on line MSM and it is fair to say that the LNPs policy had met with universal condemnation. Although I must say the Melbourne Herald Sun couldn’t find any room for it at all amongst its daily drivel. But then it is the newspaper where the truth goes to die so I wasn’t surprised. The Age ran an online poll of around 27.000 people and around 75% gave the policy the thumbs down.

A quote of mine:

“On the NBN. “The problem with designing a network to meet the needs of today is that it denies you the ability to meet the needs of tomorrow”.

NDIS: The opposition has said it supports this policy. It is however so popular that they could hardly say otherwise. But it is Labor policy and how ironic it would be if the conservatives had to implement it. And there is no guarantee that they wouldn’t re hash it in some way.

The Economy: We should not under estimate the difficulty the LNP will have framing an economic policy for the next election. With the downturn in revenues the government has had much difficulty in costing its own initiatives. The opposition will have more so. Despite pressure from the government it has yet to say where all its savings measures will come from. It has said it will eliminate the school kid’s bonus scheme and super will be cut from lower paid women but they will need a lot more than that. And of course they will take around 12,000 jobs out of the public service. The government has a record of outstanding economic performance and with Rudd at the helm should be able to sell it more vibrantly.

The opposition intends to have a “commission of audit” after the election, to review government spending “top to bottom”, rein in waste, identify where taxpayer funds should be spent and start “with a clean slate” on government spending. That’s a pretty broad brief and I would interpret it to mean a repeat of the Queensland experience.
Now cast your mind back to the last election and remember that Abbott was not capable of presenting LP Economic Policy himself so he hand balled to Hockey who in turn passed it on to Robb. It then became a total balls up and the accountants they hired to verify their figures were fined for dishonesty. The policy they presented would not get past a first year economics student. It will be interesting to see if Abbott has the guts to present this time around remembering that he has said that the subject bores him.

Asylum Seeker-Immigration Policy:
Both sides of politics should hold their heads in shame for the politicisation of such a human crisis that is not only one of national importance but one the international community is trying to come to grips with. But Tony Abbott who despite having had numerous opportunities to join a bipartisan approach has chosen together with Scott Morrison to tread gutter filth in the hope that they may win a couple of redneck seats in Western Sydney. These two have done more to demonise legal asylum seekers that any other members of parliament. Some of their comments have been founded in racism. And they are both practicing Christians.

My view is that in all its complexity there is no solution to this dilemma. It can only ever be a ‘’manageable problem.’’

A people smuggler in Indonesia has told the ABC that none of the domestic policies being considered in Australia can stop the boats. As the Federal Government looks for answers leading up to the election, the people smuggler says proposed measures like turning boats back or making it harder to get refugee status are not enough. The smuggler says there are now too many people fleeing death and persecution and that factor outweighs Australia’s attempts to stop them. And while more boats reach Australian waters, some former refugees who have lost family members on the dangerous journey say the immigration system is oppressive.

At the time of writing Kevin Rudd seems to be coming up with some fresh proposals and we can only live in hope that Tony Abbott might come to his senses and adopt a more humane and bipartisanship approach. Lies and shouts of ‘’stop the boats’’ will resolve nothing.
• Maternity Leave: The Liberal Party does have a policy. It will increase company tax by one and a half per cent. Most economists say the policy is unaffordable and caters for women with high incomes. No costing’s have come to light.
• Marriage Equality: Tony Abbott is totality against it because of his Catholic beliefs. Imposing his own morality on everyone. Kevin Rudd is in favour and has indicated that he will legislate. And so he should. Meanwhile the rest of the world moves on.

An Australian Republic: The Labor Party would support a plebiscite as a first step. Mr Abbott is a devout Royalist and led its campaign at the last referendum. In doing so he told some atrocious lies.

The following Liberal Party policies are taken from an article in The Guardian by Lenore Taylor.

• Renewable energy: The Coalition has promised a review of the 20% renewable energy target in 2014, even though it was already reviewed by the Climate Change Authority just last year. Some in the Coalition are demanding that it be scrapped altogether. More likely, say senior sources, it will be wound back a little, because its promise to deliver 41,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy by 2020 is working out to be more like 25%, due to falling electricity demand. Bottom line: the renewable energy industry is not sure what will happen to the target under the Coalition.

• Federal state relations and COAG: In his budget-in-reply speech, Abbott promised that within two years of a change of government, working with the states, the Coalition would produce a white paper on Coag reform, and the responsibilities of different governments, to ensure that, as far as possible, the states are sovereign in their own sphere. The objective will be to reduce and end, as far as possible, the waste, duplication and second-guessing between different levels of government that has resulted, for instance, in the commonwealth employing 6,000 health bureaucrats even though it doesn’t run a single hospital.”

• Northern Australia: The absence of a northern Australia policy would not normally be notable, but Abbott recently released a “vision” to have a white paper on the development of the north. The “vision” said the white paper would look at most of the ideas being vocally advocated by mining magnate Gina Rinehart and the Institute of Public Affairs, but in terms so vague and non-committal it is unclear whether the Coalition intends to actually do them, or was just trying to appease its powerful backers.

• Industrial relations: The Coalition’s policy promises only minor changes to the fair work laws, but will ask the Productivity Commission to undertake a “comprehensive and broad” review of industrial relations policy – with the results to be taken to the next election

• Car industry assistance: We know the Coalition will cut $500m from the budgeted car industry assistance between now and 2015. It says it will have another Productivity Commission inquiry into what assistance should be provided after that and how it should be spent. Given that the industry says ongoing assistance is essential for its survival, that leaves a large question mark.

. Childcare policy will be the subject of yet another Productivity Commission review. The terms of reference ask for policy to be assessed against the working hours and needs of modern families, and leave open the possibility of government rebate being extended to in-home nannies. That all sounds good, but we also know spending will be constrained so the results remain unclear.

• Competition policy: The Coalition has given mixed signals on competition policy, saying both that the existing laws are too onerous and that small business needs more protection against large competitors. Competition law will be the subject of another “root and branch review” after the election.

• Tax policy: Abbott has said he will repeal the carbon and mining taxes and promised a “modest” company tax cut, with the size and timing still uncertain. He has also said he will have a white paper, a full review of the tax system, with any subsequent decisions to be taken to the next election.

Authors note: The Labor Party intends to scrap its carbon tax in favour of a floating price so Mr Abbott can no longer campaign on a repeal the tax policy.

There may of course be other policy areas that would interest people. Predominantly in their own electorates. I think however I have covered the key issues. This election should be about policy and who has the best to serve the nation. Of course the personal character of the opposing leaders will hold some sway with the punters. One is a negative individual and the other sees a positive future for our country. But I do hope policy determines our fate. Hope all this helps you in your decision making.

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