Newly-installed minority Prime Minister Julia Gillard doesn’t get global warming.
Her chosen minister for “Climate Change” – the sanitised term for global warming – is Greg Combet, a former coal engineer, union official and MP with coal workers in his NSW electorate. He said in an interview with The Australian newspaper, referring to employees of the coal industry,
“I’ve got a responsibility to support those people’s jobs. The coal industry is a very vibrant industry with a strong future. What you’ve got to do is look to how we can achieve in the longer term things like carbon capture and storage for coal-fired power stations.”
So there it is. The Gillard government will continue the fantasy that Australia can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while preserving the coal industry.
Just to make the point perfectly clear, Combet continued
“The key thing about a carbon price, from my point of view, from the outset is that it created an incentive to reduce emissions . . . but do it sensibly. And we did do it with the CPRS (carbon pollution reduction scheme), with all the negotiations we had with industry. We’ve got to keep it on it a commonsense frame.”
Ah yes, the CPRS was a real scheme and not window dressing, they will negotiate with industry, and it will all be kept “sensible”.
What is starkly clear in Australian politics of the past decade, since politicians have responded to public opinion by claiming to be doing something about “climate change”, is that nothing has been done or proposed that would actually reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The reason is simple: the greater part of our emissions come from coal, and if we seriously reduce emissions we reduce coal industry profits.
Therefore governments have set about reducing our emissions without reducing our emissions. No wonder Combet said “I am acutely aware of the challenges that this policy presents.”
To accomplish the impossible, they appeal to a fantasy called “carbon capture and storage” (CCS). This is the idea that carbon dioxide emitted from burning coal can be captured and pumped back into the ground. Of all the energy technologies being touted for the future, CCS is the most conjectural and one of the most expensive. There have been minor demonstrations of it, but nothing that begins to approach the scale that would be required if it were to make a significant contribution to reducing emissions. A number of highly spruiked pilot plants have been quietly closed down.
Suitable geological formations do not conveniently exist near power stations, coal mines or big cities, so large-scale and long-distance transport would be required. The Earth’s crust is riven with fractures, and pumping fluids in and out of it generates more fractures. It is virtually impossible to assure that some of the very large volumes of gas would not leak back to the surface, causing major long-term problems.
The Rudd Government’s proposed CPRS was claimed to be a plan to reduce emissions, but the reductions would not have actually occurred until the 2030s, and then only if CCS actually worked on a large scale. In other words, the so-called plan was simply a faint hope, supported by little substance and a lot of coal industry spruiking.
This nonsense is being put about in the context of many studies and economic reports showing that greenhouse gas emissions can be quickly and cost-effectively reduced by reducing energy wastage and by progressively improving designs of buildings, factories and vehicles to improve energy productivity. This approach has for some time been waiting for immediate action, but is given no more than token support.
None of this is a great surprise. It has been clear for some time that both major political parties have been captured by the coal industry. They faithfully parrot the industry line that we must maintain jobs and exports, but never mention that there are more jobs, and exports with a greater future, in efficient and clean energy approaches. We are being tied to a dinosaur technology with a very limited future.
Australia’s negative role is getting rapidly worse. According to an article by Guy Pearse in the September issue of The Monthly, Australian-based companies, with the enthusiastic support of the Australian Government, are rushing to mine coal in many third-world countries, thus spreading our addiction to other vulnerable people. The logic of these companies is impeccable: even if developed countries do limit greenhouse emissions, strong limits are unlikely to be adopted by developing countries, so the companies will be free to make their dirty fortunes. This indeed is the logic of the heroin pusher.
Some commentators are suggesting that the prospects for real action on greenhouse emissions have improved with the installation of the minority Gillard government, because several of the Independents share the Greens’ desire for action.
However if anything is to happen it will require the mother of all political fights. A small taste of what would be required was given by the mining industry response to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s attempt to impose a tax on mining super-profits. The mining PR campaign was arguably the factor that led to Rudd’s overthrow. The Independents and Greens will require very active support from ordinary people (the ones the Government is supposedly working for) if they are to prevail.