The real greenhouse denialists

Greenpeace says that its Newspoll on greenhouse issues shows Kevin Rudd would make himself popular by taking radical steps to reduce Australia’s greenhouse emissions:

[Greenpeace head of campaigns Steve] Campbell said that this week Mr Rudd had the opportunity to show leadership at the Bali climate talks and help gain consensus on the 25-40% range of reductions.

“This poll shows that such a move would be extremely popular with the people of Australia, who delivered Mr Rudd a firm mandate at the last election, and want him to take even stronger action by reducing Australia’s emissions within his first term,” he said.

Actually, the poll (which to Greenpeace’s credit they make available in full) again shows how tricky this issue is for any governmment.

There is the usual overwhelming endorsement of action to reduce greenhouse emissions. It’s when we get to how this is to be done that, also as usual, things start to get complicated.

One question asks:

Do you agree or disagree that government should begin phasing out existing coal-fired power stations and replacing them with renewable energy generation within the next three years?


77% of respondents agreed with that. But of course there are some problems with this idea. The first is that the federal government doesn’t actually own any coal-fired power stations, so they would have the very tricky task of phasing out privately or state-owned generators. That would put some rather large holes in the NSW Labor government’s electricity ‘privatisation’ plans.

The second, even larger, problem is that there aren’t any viable renewable energy sources that would allow a phase-out of coal-fired power stations in three years. At best they can be supplemented with more expensive wind or solar power. As we have seen before, the public is in a delusional state about about our current options, preferring solar power to the price increases that are necessary to both reduce consumption and encourage investment in alternative technologies.

Then there was the question on whether the government should adopt policies to increase coal exports, keep them the same, or decrease them. 10% wanted to increase coal exports, 22% decrease and 51% keep them the same. So seemingly we should reduce our coal consumption, but it is ok if China keeps burning our coal for us.

This is the greenhouse ‘denialist’ problem – not a few conservatives arguing that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy, but a public that accepts the theory but rejects the consequences of their beliefs.

While public views on means and ends are so far apart expect the new government to act very cautiously, for fear that ‘working families’ will take revenge at the ballot box as they find their energy bills skyrocketing, instead of the financial pressure easing as Rudd led them to believe would happen if he won.

36 thoughts on “The real greenhouse denialists

  1. John Howard thought the problem could be solved by the magic of technology, hence his AP6 initiative with the United States and others. If he was right, then everything will be fixed with no increase in anyone’s electricity bills.

    Sadly, he was kidding himself. Curbing greenhouse gas emissions will mean higher higher electricity and petrol prices. Organisations like Greenpeace are doing the cause a disservice by pretending that there are easy solutions. Nothing can happen in three years and not much can happen by 2020, the date on everybody’s lips. Unfortunately, we’ve spent the past 12 years doing SFA and it’s not possible to squeeze 24 years of action into the next 12.

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  2. To significantly reduce emissions we have the choice of (1)advances in technology, most likely by going nuclear (2) burning less coal which will dramatically impact on our quality of life or (3) paying massive amounts of money on inefficient and unreliable power sources like wind and solar. As Andrew said, see how the struggling working families like 3.

    Given that we produce about 1.6% of the world’s emissions, reducing our own output to zero would have a vanishingly small impact on the world. We might as well spend the next 12 years doing SFA for all the difference it makes.

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  3. Spiro, you dummy, even if Howard was the australian version of algore we would still be facing the issues Andrew is describing. In other words the real problem is the public wants something done in terms of mitigation but it will get sticker shock once the “bills”come in. The government is afraid to meat out the real pain because it knows that 30 electorates decide elections and these people are a very unforgiving bunch.

    The solution could of course be met in two ways.

    1. imposing a carbon tax while simultaneously reducing income taxes, and

    2. Introducing nuke into the energy mix for base load needs

    A carbon tax will never get done and the government has taken nuke off the table.

    Welcome to the bizarro world of Labor.

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  4. Rafe

    These geniuses have taken nuke off the table. So let’s hope it’s sunny and windy over the next 20 years. 🙂

    That’s the trouble with promises you can’t keep, they always end up biting you on the backside.

    If Rudd is serious about this 20 year thing, we don’t have much time in terms of introducing nuke as it takes 5 to 7 years to build reactors. there is current overload with large engineering firms around the wrold as everyone is scrambling to build them… in other words we need to get in the line and wait our turn.

    Labor has us in a monumental pickle signing that friggen accord while promising to reduce emissions by 3 billion % over the next several decades and not allowing nuke to be in the mix. Amazing.

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  5. “These geniuses have taken nuke off the table. So let’s hope it’s sunny and windy over the next 20 years.”

    This is the problem with some ppl… they assume that technology stands still….. they totally underestimate human ingenuity and ability to adapt… and Jc, it is only developing countries like China that are building nuclear power plants. Modern countries, like Norway intend to dismantle theirs… Nuclear power is an old technology… Nuclear is not the long term solution…. its ok for us in our lifetime… we won’t have to deal with the preponderance of waste and the depletion of uranium sources (which only means that future generations have to develop alternate sources of energy) – not to mention possible accidents and meltdowns or security issues like uranium falling into the wrong hands… proliferation of nuclear power is not a feasible long term option, nor is it a desireable one.

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  6. Actually we could bail ourselves out financially by becoming the repository for the nuclear waste of the world. The big space outback is ideal, you just need a tin shed with a well-policed fence around it and a railway from a port leading to it. The waste might even have positive value down the track when someone works out how to re-use it.

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  7. Rafe,

    Every country bar the US and China could take the view that what they do won’t affect the world, so they might as well do nothing, in which case nothing will get done. (China and the US are conveniently using each other’s inaction as excuses for doing nothing themselves.)

    JC,

    I find myself in the strange position of partially agreeing with you, although you have underestimated the time needed to get nukes up. It’s taken 5 years just to get approval to get Port Philip Bay deepened and even that hasn’t started yet. Nukes? Try 15 years minimum.

    And the risks and costs are huge.

    Clean coal might get us there but that’s 20 years away.

    This is why Rudd is resisting targets for 2020. It’s only 12 years away. There is no way anything susbtantial can happen by then. 2030, maybe.

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  8. “The waste might even have positive value down the track when someone works out how to re-use it”

    Actually, there was an article in Nature a while ago (last year?) on this, and people were working out how to steal more energy from what used to be considered high level toxic waste (no surprise really), which had the side benefit of making it only toxic for a few hundred years.

    I think apart from political problems, one of the impediments to using Australia as a waste dump is that its extremely dangerous to transport high level waste around the world — so the shipping itself is problem.

    Personally, I don’t see why everyone wants one technology or another — I assume the best strategies are going to be via multiple strategies, as I believe the price of solar (and other such technologies) is getting much cheaper quickly. So you could use nuclear (or whatever — gas is also good) to keep the energy flow constant, but other cleaner technologies which vary consideraby during the day to supplement that.

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  9. “This is the greenhouse ‘denialist’ problem – not a few conservatives arguing that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy, but a public that accepts the theory but rejects the consequences of their beliefs. ”

    Come on. The first step to resolving any problem is recognising that it exists in the first place. Climate change denialists can’t even do this despite the consensus of science.

    The next step – working out solutions – is obviously the more difficult one.

    One thing’s for sure – denying that the problem even exists will not solve anything. There are many incurable diseases in existence. Do we throw our hands up and say, “oh well, it’s just too hard, too bad for you” or “no, this disease does not exist; it’s a construct of your imagination”. No, we get going on finding solutions. That’s what is happening now.

    You can’t blame people for acknowledging there’s a problem but not yet knowing of a realistic way to fix it.

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  10. “gas is also good”

    Gas is good, but the gas reserves are in the west and the people are in the east. If we’re going to build a pipeline to get it from the NW Shelf to the eastern seaboard, then we’d better start now.

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  11. That people continue to want to have their cake and eat it too is not surprising.

    In the short term surely an agreement between rich countries to substantially boost research into alternative energy, or all kinds including, most definitely, improved nuclear research. Surely some method, be it improved and cheaper solar power via cheaper fabrication with less silicon, amorphous silicon, organic solar panels, pebble bed reactors, thorium reactors, waste burning as conrad points to, algae derived fuels, geothermal, orbiting solar or something will make it possible to replace other forms of energy. Betting on any particular one is probably a bad idea, betting on one of them from all of them is probably a good one.

    Then a tax linked to actual measured warming, as proposed by warming skeptic Ross McKitrick could be introduced as described in http://www.financialpost.com/story.html?id=d84e4100-44e4-4b96-940a-c7861a7e19ad&p=1

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  12. Gas IS NOT GOOD. Gas is too scarce to be burning up for baseload power. The price would skyrocket if we stated doing that making the whole thing uneconomic. there isn’t enough gas to do that.

    Simmo
    there is no technology current available that would adequately fill our needs as an industrial civilization other than nuke for emissions free energy needs. Nuke is required to provide baseload energy. Everything else (like wond and solar) is like trying to roast a leg of lamb using a match.

    Don’t kid yourself. And there is no such thing as old and new techology. That’s just Green talk gibberish. there is only one form of technology. One that offers the most, satisfies consumer needs in the most efficient and cost effective way. So it doesn’t matter if it 100 years old or recently conceived. The wheel is old technology too, Simmo.

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  13. Actually JC,

    I guess it depends where you want to get your gas from. If they start thinking of ways to get the Methane hydrate sitting on the ocean floor, then its basically limitless.

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  14. There’s plenty of gas on the east coast, it’s just not all fully developed yet. Coal Seam Gas is continuing to be ramped up in QLD and still has massive potential. There’s so much gas in QLD that they are now investigating building LNG facilities in Gladstone to send it offshore. Add in recently developed basins in Victoria and you’re in quite good supply shape. Given how cheap gas is in Australia, there are more east coat sources that are noncommercial by our standards, but not by world standards.
    Oh, and geothermal is looking promising out in SA as well…

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  15. You all will of read this in the lastest Eureka Street:
    “The Howard Government was a casualty of one of the more pronounced trends in global politics today: the simultaneous banalisation of domestic politics and globalisation of public morality.

    As the role of national governments is dwarfed by the enormity of trans-national economic flows and the environmental crisis, and as people’s habits are more and more enmeshed in the matrix of consumerism, any immediate sense of morality becomes de-localised and cast onto the global stage…. Against this temptation to ‘globalise’ our sense of morality, it has never been more important to insist on the concreteness of local ethical commitments. ”

    So I’m thinking AN is right, but hoping he’s wrong and that inspired leadership would convince people that $30 billion spent on energy efficiency and renewables is better than tax cuts, and that mandating that all new houses have, oh, say $20,000 worth of solar panels on the roof is being sensible, responsible and something you could fell good about.

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  16. Spiros, conrad:

    It’s not about us (australia). We don’t make a difference in terms of the big show in town which is… the EU, the US, China and India.

    We could baseload with gas but there isn’t enough for the others, or rather the price would skyrocket.

    Russell says:

    and that mandating that all new houses have, oh, say $20,000 worth of solar panels on the roof is being sensible, responsible and something you could fell good about

    I don’t give a shit about felling good, Russell. This isn’t about feeling good about yourself. If it was it would be more of a medical issue rather than an economic/scientific one. I 1/2 sense this is the real problem with a lot of the green movement who are using these issues as more of a spiritual religious exercise.

    this is about getting to zero emissions asap in the most cost effective, least economically distruptive way.

    Which gets to the point:

    Choice and doing no harm is the best way of getting there. This is could be done through a transfer to carbon tax instead of income tax and making sure ALL options are on the table thereby letting the market decide which options work best. If you want to spend 20G on solar panels and use that as some ort of religious experience instead of having a statue of Mary or Jesus in the house, go ahead knock yourself out. But we shouldn’t be limiting the options of others who don’t wanna participate in praying to a solar panel in Sunday.

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  17. JC, there’s something to be said for a carbon tax instead of emissions trading, but the rest of the world is going with emissions trading, and that pretty much settles the issue for us. Plus, nobody knows how high to set the tax, but they do know how low to set the emissions limit, or at least they know it better.

    By the way, the first proposal for replacing income tax with a carbon tax came from the economist you have such a high (sic) regard for, Paul Krugman. It might happen, but not for several decades.

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  18. Emissions trading is a phony market that will end in tears, spiros. There will be cheating and other crap.

    A carbon tax can be done. A decent economist will be able to figure out where to set it based on options available. it woudn’t be hard to do. John Humphreys from the LDP actually came out wih a great idea. He suggests it ought to be a moving targeting rising and falling depending on temp and/or PPM stats etc.

    If Krugmen was the first one out… well what can I say? Maybe it was one of his saner moments or even broken clocks are right a few times a day.

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  19. You might be right about the cheating. Everyone thinks the Russians are already cheating their heads off by claiming credit for fictitios emissions reductions. But there is not a serious proposal anywhere that matters for having a carbon tax instead of emissions trading.

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  20. “I don’t give a shit about felling good, Russell. This isn’t about feeling good about yourself.” Not very Christmas-y of you JC.
    .
    I think it might well start with being able to feel good about doing something. The whole climate thing makes people feel doomed and disempowered, as if nothing can be done because first we have to wait for the government to do something about coal-fired power stations, public transport or whatever. People need to see positive things happening, rather than promises and spin, and feel they are contributing. It just seems pointless though, if you’re the only one trying. Who’s going to feel safe in a small, light car when all around you there are behemoths ?

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  21. Australia could have a carbon tax and the feds could buy and sell the relevant international credits to make up the relevant international cap and trade quota.

    If we had a carbon tax I suspect the technology on the drawing boards at Enviromission and Geodynamics would get put into effect rather quickly. Both offer emission free base load solutions. Unproven commercially but still both see very technically viable.

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  22. jc wrote:

    He suggests it ought to be a moving targeting rising and falling depending on temp and/or PPM stats etc.

    There’s already a (sorta) market that should track most of the predictions about global warming: reinsurance.

    I would assume that as global warming starts to have the predicted effects, insurance will start to get more expensive. You could weight the carbon trading off an index (like a basket of reinsurance company stocks) and still get a reasonable outcome. Further, if you don’t believe in the whole thing, going short on reinsurance stocks could make your fortune. It’s a proper market with decent liquidity and could give a monetary basis to what is very hard to track. Tracking C02 PPM measurements could work, but the actual costs we’re trying to mitigate aren’t C02 PPM, they are changes in weather, crops, natural disasters, building destruction etc that cost people real money.

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  23. For the attention of Rafe and all the others relying on thinktank employers who are heavily vested in neanderthal mining, fossil fuels and associated imperialist invasions.

    1. Dramatically curbing fossil fuel use and not expanding nuclear is a clear option for increasing GDP and improving living standards in Australia. This is a reality you will have to deal with not a fairytale.

    Case in point, your favourite the Austrians of Austria..

    – Better GDP per capita than Australia.
    *** 80% renewable fuel sources for electricity, have had for a long time. Mostly Hydro.
    – Built a nuclear plant but dismantled it before activation, currently no nuclear plans.
    – Very limited mining industry.
    – Just to top it of Vienna is generally rated as more livable than the fossil fuels behemoths of Melbourne and Vancouver.

    2. What is needed is not a carbon tax in Australia, but a complete solar and wind conversion.
    An end to uranium, coal and iron mining and associated export, as this is merely exporting the problem not fixing it.
    No further fossil fuel extraction and phasing out of current operations.
    Basically cutting in at the supply side of economics rather than the demand and taxation side.
    Furthermore, a move towards plant based foods away from methane producing and environment degrading meat and dairy industries.

    This basically means standing Australia on its head shaking out its pockets and creating a better country.

    I could go into details of the solar powered city transport in Bavaria which means that no one need miss a ride to the hospital, air quality would be improved and people could live longer more productive lives.

    There you have it. Go forth and inhabit my vineyards and do not complain or whine unless you can defeat the arguments presented with conclusive logic.
    If renewables dont improve living standards and economy then why is Austria functioning at a higher economic level than Australia??

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  24. Sinclair – couldn’t you use solar power in the daytime to pump the water up a hill, and then at night it would flow down turning those generators. See, hydro power ……

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  25. I’ve got a new badge from Switzerland for your ferrari by the way JC now you are ready to go out to pasture

    RE: Hydro — Malmo, Sweden has new housing developments (similar to docklands in Melbourne) that are 50% renewable energy even before you start hooking up to national grids.. There is no reason this could not be a higher percentage in Australia with extra solar energy available.

    The Malmo Torso (Tower) recycles all its own sewerage, although they could still pick up a couple of pointers from Landeryou.

    Rafe, I like the way you stay quiet when you cant reply to an argument. Its very polite, I will put in a good word with your mother in law about your behaviour online, so expect a big sloppy kiss this yuletide.

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  26. Still in the alps with the euro-hillbillies.. Some of the attitudes here are distinctly mid 20th century when compared to cosmopolitan Australia. Almost like a timewarp.

    Must have something to do with Mauthausen, a nearby former concentration camp where anyone with money, a brain or a degree or a religion (and I mean school teachers, the Bavarian monarchy and catholic priests not just professors and jews) was killed en masse or interned about 50 years ago. After that, many surviving intellectuals covered up parts of their CV and left for the better money in the states. All this must have left some intellectual vacuum in addition to all the books that had to be replaced.
    Nowadays, anyone who can abbreviate a word is overqualified to letcher at the local uni.

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  27. The idea that base load electricity cannot be generated for half the Coal now burnt and water consumption reduced to zero is pure myth. In September 2007 ABARE report to Government outlined how Government was supressing new technology here in Australia. Also a good many coal fired power stations are Government owned,you can imagine the flogging they would get from Coal miners if they were even to think about cuttin back on burning coal.

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