Climate, money and politics

I don’t often write about climate change, but here are a few thoughts as we go into the Federal election on Saturday.

But first I need to get these points out of the way:

  • Climate change is real.
  • If you think climate change is a hoax because you think you know more than the 97% of climate scientists who say it’s real, that’s up to you – but I’m not interested in your theories. Don’t bother leaving a comment.
  • Australia’s share of emissions isn’t that big, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have influence, that we shouldn’t set a good example, or that we shouldn’t make an effort with everybody else.

Okay then.

So often it seems the politics of climate change in Australia comes down to cold hard cash: the cost, the impact on jobs.

The Coalition’s rhetoric going into the election, and for literally 20 years now, has been to demand to know how the cost of reducing emissions.

They never seem to consider the cost of not acting.

No matter how much I might dislike the rhetoric, for some people it resonates, and it seems in Australia, real action on emissions reductions may continue to be resisted for this reason.

But what I think might (hopefully) get things happening is if it can be shown that actually, cutting emissions can save money.

Technology is getting cheaper over time, and this is changing the equation.

Some examples:

Power

Everyone knows the importance of affordable reliable power.

Coal subsidies are huge, particularly the costs of keeping the existing coal power stations going.

It’s even getting cheaper to build new renewables than to maintain existing coal power stations – let alone build new coal power.

Recent power reliability problems such as on January 25th were caused by coal failures. Coal is becoming expensive and unreliable.

No wonder coal is on the way out, with 13 coal power stations shut down in Australia since 2012.

Meanwhile effective large-scale battery systems have emerged that are
overcoming store and dispatch issues with renewables, contributing to stabilisation of the grid, which in turn demonstrably cuts power costs.

This means I’m not convinced anymore that clean means unaffordable and unreliable.

(People like to talk about baseload power, but what’s really important is dispatchable power – in other words, available when and where it’s needed.)

Britain recently went a week without coal power. Okay, so it included 46% gas and 21% nuclear, but they still think they can regularly get by without coal and gas by 2025.

The cost of PV panels is dropping, making both large-scale solar farms and household solar a good investment.

Given labour is becoming the biggest cost in many industries, it makes sense that over time, the once-off installation and maintenance of renewable energy generation will end up being cheaper that paying people to continually dig stuff out of the ground and burn it.

In fact the economics of it means that even people who don’t believe in climate change are jumping on this bandwagon.

Tony Pecora, the now disendorsed Clive Palmer/UAP candidate for Melbourne, who believes that the IMF and the World Bank “are pushing the idea of climate change so strongly … because having a global-based carbon taxation system is one of the most effective ways of centralising financial power” (his actual words) and yet his day job is installing solar panels!

Solar panels on a roof in Bentleigh

Cars

Meanwhile the cost of electric vehicles is dropping, with some models set to drop to the same price as their petrol counterparts by next year. That’s high-end vehicles initially, but even for models such as Toyota Camry it’s likely to be between 2022 and 2024.

The Coalition’s bleating against electric vehicles is utterly ridiculous. They’ve gone in hard against them just because Labor has decided to support them – a reminder that politicians will say almost anything to get themselves elected.

The key claim that electric vehicles are under-powered is just simply wrong. Here’s a video of a Tesla pulling a Boeing 787.

With other countries moving on this, vehicle manufacturers are also moving off petrol. Mercedes just announced half of their new vehicles will be electric by 2030, with all switched by 2039.

Electric vehicles won’t fix traffic problems, but do reduce pollution in cities, and if combined with renewable energy, will help cut overall pollution and emissions.

Transport choice

Transport investment has outcomes in emissions.

Because transport is supply-led, funding more road infrastructure results in higher emissions (especially while the bulk of the car fleet is petrol) whereas providing better public transport (particularly when powered by renewables) gives people options to leave the car at home more often, helping to cut emissions.

Victorians who consider transport infrastructure important have a stark choice in Saturday’s election. The Coalition says they’ll fund the East West Link. Labor says it’ll fund the Suburban Rail Loop.

SRL isn’t perfect. Most would agree it isn’t as important as Metro 2. And the whole concept still needs fleshing out. But I’d rather have it than EWL any day.

Follow the money

Lots of people want action on climate change, but the way the economics are going, even those who don’t particularly care will soon be choosing to buy electric vehicles and rooftop solar – because it’ll be cheaper.

And power industry investors will be building renewables, not coal, because it’ll be cheaper. The dinosaurs will be left behind.

Climate Summit cartoon
by Joel Pett, December 2009

So I suspect climate change action will come, with of course plenty of other benefits from cutting pollution.

But this is not an excuse for our political leaders to do nothing. On the contrary – they should be pushing harder for change, to help us ride the wave, not swim against it.

It’s not just good for humanity, it can also ensure that Australia doesn’t miss out on opportunities to be at the forefront of a huge technological shift as the world decarbonises.

More action needed

So the good news is that money will force progress.

The bad news it it won’t be enough.

The science says CO2 needs to get down to a level of 350 parts per million to stabilise the climate. It’s just gone above 415, the highest in human history.

Something has to happen, and quickly.

It’s all very well for us to just follow the money to cleaner energy and reduced emissions, but stopping dangerous climate change should be a higher priority for our political leaders and policymakers.

Vote well, Australia.

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15 Replies to “Climate, money and politics”

  1. The way I see this “climate change is real” vs “climate change isn’t real / we aren’t the cause / is a hoax” business is:

    – The weight of scientific evidence is that climate change is real and the main cause of it is human activity particularly combustion of fossil fuels
    – That said, it wouldn’t be the first time in history that the accepted scientific consensus turns out to be wrong.

    So, we need to do some “if X then Y” thinking. If the science is right and we don’t act, the consequences are potentially catastrophic. Greenland melts. Coastal areas are inundated. Storms, floods, droughts, all get worse, and there are potentially some tipping points that are unpredictable (eg. if the Arctic tundra warms up a certain amount, outgassing of methane means massive climate change no matter what we do at that point). We may be too late already (I’ve seen it convincingly argued that the election of Donald Trump did no additional harm because we were too late already). But we should act now.

    Alternatively, suppose the science is wrong. We embark on a programme of aggressive decarbonisation of power generation, transport and heating, which it turns out was unnecessary. We’ll have wasted some money. We’ll have built some infrastructure that wasn’t quite as high a priority (but is still of public benefit), or at worst, is a white elephant.

    Personally I’d rather risk our having wasted some resources and made some unnecessary sacrifices than risk failing to act with catastrophic consequences.

  2. @Vaughan, that’s the beauty of it – as per the Joel Pett cartoon above, even aside from carbon emissions themselves, there are plenty of direct visible benefits from reducing emissions.

  3. Nicely done. I always find it so curious that know it all types, especially politicians, question such overwhelming scientific opinion based on research and evidence.

  4. If we focus on public transport instead of private car use that will be a huge benefit to out cities. Less traffic, lower cost to taxpayers and individuals , lower air pollution. Better amenity in our city centres. Etc.

  5. The is not much wrong with the actual science, based on observable facts. A lot of the predictions are just rubbish, though.

    A bigger problem, is with the economic, not scientific, aspects of many of the solutions.

  6. Why not simply that fossil fuels are running out and you don’t want to be “caught with your pants down” or some such?

  7. Even if climate change happened to be not so real after all, let’s face it, we all had fair shares of the 1952 London Killer Fog (and, according to some sources, its invisible present-day version), or Yokkaichi Asthma epidemic in 1960s-70s Japan (and other similar epidemic across the world). Or, less dramatic, but just as bad: obesity from lack of mobility, numerous car accidents and police chases. Being able to relying less on burning fuel is a good thing anyway.

  8. Ok, I sit on both sides of the fence. Let me talk about both. Both sides looking at the science.

    While I will not call it a hoax, I would still value some information about how the scientists are reaching their conclusions, and how independent are their thinking too. I mean, if they base their research on the one same set of dogma, where they have all been taught by the same teacher, teaching the same lessons to each of his students, can we expect any variation in their responses?

    The only way, that the greenhouse effect theory be true is,
    ++ Is the chemcial composition of CO2 such, that it will impact the environment somewhat worse than, what gets ejected from volcanos all around the world?

    My understanding is yes. I dont have the figures at hand, but I do understand that CO2 is tens of times worse on a per gram basis.

    ++ And, at the most, Human impact is, the straw that broke the camels back.

    That last bit of straw can be what makes a difference, and if so, we need to be concerned about it.

    Science on the other side of the debate, can not be disputed either, such as,

    ++ Melbourne, is heading to, the coldest winter that anyone here has ever known. It may be short, but, it shall be sharp. This is all because, the sun is getting colder and darker. In this case, the sun shall have a direct impact on climate change on Earth this year, and, will continu to do so, until it gets hotter again.

    ++ I remember growing up in the 1980s when we had this great fear, and we had 10 years to get things sorted back then. We are now 20 years beyond that, and, we are heading towards the coldest winter we have ever seen. There was clearly something wrong with the science back then.

    ++ There are good things with an increase in CO2, including a much higher yield produced by plants. That in turn shall help feed a lot more people.

    You can not deny the impact on earth, that is a change in how hot the sun is at any particular moment in time.

    Having said that, I do support a move towards solar power on most homes, and of course public transport over private transport, for many reasons in deed.

    Should it be, that we find the need to increase CO2, we can always, just set up massive fires here there and everywhere. and then extinguish them once we reach the threshold. If we move over to green energy for transportation and domestic etc, we will then have this great and instant control over what CO2 we release when we want.

  9. Re Arran;

    That is a very good point.

    I learnt yesterday, that, Steam train groups in both UK and Australia, are all running out of good steaming coal. It will not be long now, and it will not be possible to run a steam train with burning coal.

    They are all urgently converting all of their steam locomotives over to oil burners. They burn the same waste material that comes out of the sump of the typical automobile.

    Other types of coal has thousands of years worth of supplies still there.

  10. @ TranzitJim – “Melbourne, is heading to, the coldest winter that anyone here has ever known. ”

    From what information do you base this claim on?

    A quick glance at the BOM’s climate outlook suggests that: “Warmer than average days are likely for most of Australia during winter, except for the far north of Queensland. For western and eastern parts of Australia, the chances of being warmer than average are very high; greater than 80%.
    Nights are also likely to be warmer than average for WA, the northern NT, parts of Queensland, eastern NSW and most of Victoria and Tasmania. Chances of warmer or cooler nights are roughly equal across central Australia, SA, and inland southeast Australia”

    If you drill down into the modelling by BOM at this link: http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/outlooks/#/temperature/maximum/median/seasonal/0

    It is predicted that the chance of exceeding the median maximum temps in Melbourne over this coming winter are 65-70%.

    Please provide evidence of your claims in your post, make statements without any factual basis to them.

    Furthermore, you are errantly conflating ‘weather’ with ‘climate’ – one season does not reflect the larger shift of a climate system. anecdotal evidence pulled from any one year is not sufficient to draw conclusions.

  11. well any sort of coal is good for burning, basically. It is not in short supply.

    It is coals which have other specialised requirements, that are in short supply.

    I have not heard of anywhere that is converting coal-burning locomotives to oil. In case you haven’t noticed, basically nowhere is using coal fired locomotives for actual transportation use.

    As for volcanos, most of the stuff which comes out of them causes global cooling, not global warming.

    Desertification in areas like central Africa and south Australia started a long time before global warming, and caused by other factors like cutting down all the tress.

  12. On the “fossil fuels are running out” point – yes, they are, though less quickly than we thought in the 90s and early 00s. Conventional oil was expected to peak in the mid 00s, as indeed it did, but it turns out the transition to less-conventional oil was smoother than expected and fracking etc has expanded the accessible gas resources. I used to say we didn’t need to worry too much about climate change as such, because we’d run out of fossil fuels before we could do serious harm to the planet with our emissions. It turns out I was wrong about that because of the emergence of relatively cheap methods of extracting unconventional oil and gas. It now looks as though we’ll have to leave quite a lot of the planet’s endowment of fossil fuels in the ground, to avoid cooking the planet (with the added advantage that if we can reduce the rate at which we’re burning them up, there’ll be more available for future generations).

    Of course here in Western Europe we have geopolitical considerations too. North Sea gas is running out, and we will be increasingly reliant on people who don’t like us very much such as Mr Putin for our gas supply (and in the meantime, the money we pay Russia in exchange for gas is potentially used to build up Russia’s military and thereby threaten us and our NATO allies). Britain has pretty much phased out coal – it now needs to get cracking on reducing its reliance on imported oil and gas. More renewables and storage on the electricity grid, commercialising synthetic methane, blending hydrogen into the gas grid, insulating more buildings, should all help.

  13. Even more back to back years of stagnation with the Libtards, well done Australia. I wonder if this means the East West Link will magically get the go-ahead…

  14. Take 15 minutes of your day and watch Greenpeace’s “Dirty Coal” movie at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5f-ad-mtRY on how the Coal industry owns the Australian government. This country will do nothing, Murdoch media and scraps of retiree tax cuts ensure that nobody ever looks more than 3yrs into the future and after their own bank balances

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