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Energy White Paper plans to burn, burn, burn it all

Burn it all. That is the plan in Australia’s new Energy White Paper. Released yesterday by Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson, it talks about responding to climate change while planning the…

Do you value this? The Energy White Paper doesn’t. Green MPs

Burn it all. That is the plan in Australia’s new Energy White Paper.

Released yesterday by Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson, it talks about responding to climate change while planning the opposite.

It is true that the Energy White Paper plans to diversify energy production and includes initiatives for renewable energy but this is additional to burning all of our coal and gas reserves.

Our planet’s atmosphere does not care about our good intentions or a diversified energy mix. It simply responds to how much fossil carbon we dump into it. When we burn fossil fuels the carbon pollution we emit will continue to affect the atmosphere for thousands of years and is, effectively, irreversible.

If we are to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilisation developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, we need to phase out emissions from fossil fuels rapidly.

If we are to leave treasures like the Great Barrier Reef for our children and grandkids, we need to leave most of our coal and gas in the ground unless extraction is conditional on 100% of emissions being captured and stored out of the atmosphere.

There is no indication at present that the Australian Government recognises this condition, instead opting for profoundly inadequate plans such as the carbon tax. The Energy White Paper continues this approach.

The “no limits” approach

The Energy White Paper is based on a plan to dig up and sell all of Australia’s coal, coal seam gas and other fossil fuels over the next century. The White Paper deals with the 2012-2035 part of that plan with coal and gas exports growing strongly over that period (Figure 3.5).

Australian projected energy trade 2008 - 2035 Energy White Paper, Figure 3.5

No limits are placed on exports of coal or gas. Instead the Energy White Paper sees a rosy future of rapid expansion of exports:

Over the next two and a half decades, Australia’s energy production is projected to more than double, largely due to export growth. We are the world’s largest coal exporter and third-largest uranium producer, and in future years will be the world’s second-largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter.

Unlike uranium where exports are conditional on safe handling and disposal, coal and gas exports are not tied to a requirement that any part of the emissions from burning them are captured and stored.

The tooth fairy appears around 2040

Under the Energy White Paper, Australia plans to continue to rely heavily on coal for electricity generation for decades.

Some time around 2040 the carbon capture and storage (CCS) tooth fairy will appear and rapidly (and magically) decrease carbon pollution from coal (Figure 3.8).

Australian electricity generation mix to 2050 Energy White Paper, Figure 3.8

A decade of major investment in CCS research suggests it will be commercially “unviable for 20 years”.

A recent CSIRO analysis suggests that installing the current most popular trial CCS technology on just half of Australia’s coal-fired power stations would cost $52 billion upfront and another $5 billion per year to operate. This is excluding the additional cost of transporting, storing, and monitoring the carbon pollution.

To put that in perspective, the total capital expenditure for the National Broadband Network is currently estimated to be $37.4 billion.

The litmus test for climate and energy policies

The litmus test that Australians should apply to our climate and energy policies is simple: will we leave the Great Barrier Reef for our children?

At present, the answer we are giving to this question is “no”.

It may be that it is too late to save the Great Barrier Reef and the myriad of life that depends on it. It may be that the human suffering that will flow from rapid climate change cannot be avoided. But it is better to fail trying than not to try at all.

The Energy White Paper will not leave a world in which the Great Barrier Reef exists and it should not be accepted. It was fitting that its launch featured an anti-coal protest. Bravo to the protesters. Let’s join them.

Join the conversation

84 Comments sorted by

  1. Neil Gibson

    Retired Electronics Engineer

    Martin Ferguson is one of the few adults in the Labor party and his white paper is the best you could expect given the political constraints. It is a tour de force compared to the vacuous white paper on Asia.

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    1. Neil Gibson

      Retired Electronics Engineer

      In reply to Chris McGrath

      What Australia does or does not do will be symbolic and cause no measurable global change. It will however have severe economic repercussions for our country which is sliding heavily into the red notwithstanding our current coal income. Perhaps the academics who are promoting this should all offer to halve their pay so the poorest in the community will not suffer so much from these policies.

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    2. Spiro Vlachos

      AL

      In reply to Chris McGrath

      Now, now, Chris. They're not spreading Ebola!

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    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      The denier meme that what Australia does will make no difference has been rebutted many times.

      Neil is either claiming that climate change is no threat or he is dismissing this threat just for some short term economic benefits.

      Unfortunately David Collett, I'm not able to enjoy some denial of deniers in this thread :(

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    4. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      Hi Neil,

      Yes, as the world's biggest coal exporter we can clearly do nothing. After all, we're just selling it. It's the users using it that is the problem. It's not our fault at all.

      Kind regards

      Chris

      P.S. Happy to halve my pay.

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    5. George Takacs

      Physicist

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      Neil,

      Your argument that what we do will have no measurable effect is one that is often used. If it was accepted then any group of 21 million people could use it and nothing would happen to reduce the world's emissions.

      As for our coal, and other mineral exports, and possible economic repercussions, this is a result of decades of failure of leadership from the business and poltical communities to fashion an economy capable of other exports. It is the result of a form of collective stupidity and laziness.

      To see an example of what could be, look at Germany. Built on coal and steel in the 19th and 20th centuries, they have transformed into a 21st century innovative manufacturing and exporting economy.

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    6. Byron Smith
      Byron Smith is a Friend of The Conversation.

      PhD candidate in Christian Ethics at University of Edinburgh

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      Australia is not only the world's largest exporter of coal, but we are 5th overall in fossil hydrocarbon extraction, behind only China, the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

      Great article. Blunt and to the point.

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    7. Liam J

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      Yes Neil, it is great to have adults such as Ferguson in charge. Obviously we need to burn all the fossil fuels and asap, and get that uranium up in the air and water - the human extinction project must succeed!

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  2. Lennert Veerman
    Lennert Veerman is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Senior Research Fellow, School of Population Health at University of Queensland

    Thanks for putting the issue so clearly, Chris. At some point the fact that climate change means that business-as-usual is no longer an option must sink in.

    Please keep on playing tug-boat for the mammoth tanker of public understanding and opinion.

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    1. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Lennert Veerman

      That's a great metaphor Lennert. I'm going to be talking about being a tug-boat for the mammoth tanker of public opinion now! I am probably the size of my little girl's toy tug-boat in the bath though.

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    2. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Lennert Veerman

      Chris McGrath is not the only tug-boat.

      A week ago Peter Christoff also wrote about the need to stop exporting coal:
      https://theconversation.edu.au/why-australia-must-stop-exporting-coal-9698

      The 210 comments to Peter's articles are unusual because the usual frequent posting climate change deniers missed this topic. Though the comments veer off to a discussion about nuclear energy, it is informative to see what happens when a discussion doesn't get hijacked by the usual denier vs science debate.

      Will this conversation also be missed by the deniers? I hope so.

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    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Lennert Veerman

      I don't think the tug boat has much work to do when it comes to public opinion. There is much greater support for real action on climate change than our major parties and our media would like us to think.

      As I've said before, we get what we vote for, and the reality is that those who voted Labor all thought that Gillard would not introduce a price on carbon during this term, and the Liberals were not promising much action either.

      So most people who are concerned about climate change voted Liberal…

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  3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

    The evidence shows that Labor (under Rudd and Gillard) have never ever intended to take real action on climate change.

    If Labor wanted to respond then their very first budget would have been different. Not only was their first budget business as usual, but their latest budget is also business as usual.

    For every dollar the budget spends for the benefit of the environment there is about $9 spent against it. The massive fuel subsidies of billions per year is just one example. These fuel subsidies…

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  4. John Newlands

    tree changer

    The CEOs of both Dow Chemical and Incitec Pivot have said we should be saving gas for the long run such as the manufacture of urea fertiliser. Noting that we now import 80% of our oil needs compressed natural gas CNG could also be a valuable diesel replacement in trucks and buses.

    I think the real reason that 'contracts for closure' of brown coal stations largely failed is because of the fear that $5/GJ gas in eastern Australia would turn into $15. The white paper's idea that gas prices will ultimately decline seems like extreme optimism.

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  5. Kim Peart

    Researcher & Writer

    Chris McGrath writes, "When we burn fossil fuels the carbon pollution we emit will continue to affect the atmosphere for thousands of years and is, effectively, irreversible."

    Am I allowed to strongly disagree?

    Excess carbon can be extracted from the air, but this takes a lot of energy ~
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=splitting-carbon-dioxide

    This energy could come from nuclear power, or by building solar power stations in space, directly accessing the unlimited energy-well…

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    1. Graham R.L. Cowan

      Researcher

      In reply to Kim Peart

      <blockquote>Chris McGrath writes, "When we burn fossil fuels the carbon pollution we emit will continue to affect the atmosphere for thousands of years and is, effectively, irreversible."

      Am I allowed to strongly disagree?

      Excess carbon can be extracted from the air, but this takes a lot of energy ...</blockquote>

      Actually, the news is much better than you or McGrath appear to know. Excess carbon can be extracted from air using <em>much less energy than was yielded in putting it there</em>.

      This is because this extraction is thermodynamically favoured. The stuff wants to come out. In practice some energy must be spent to catalyse its outcoming. More at http://www.innovationconcepts.eu/res/literatuurSchuiling/olivineagainstclimatechange23.pdf

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    2. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Graham R.L. Cowan

      Graham ~

      Thanks for the alert to this line of research.

      The work involved will still require energy, so energy will have to be found to effect a solution at the scale required and in the time available.

      Kim Peart

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    3. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Chris McGrath

      Chris ~

      In the article I read ~ "recovery takes place on time scales of hundreds of thousands of years".

      Might this be what you mean by "irreversible"?

      Am still allowed to strongly disagree?

      Kim Peart

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  6. Fred Pribac

    logged in via email @internode.on.net

    Thank you for stating it so clearly and strongly.

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  7. Zvyozdochka

    logged in via Twitter

    The Energy White Paper is such a failure of imagination and I don't mean in terms of simply going for more gas, or CCS. It's a pure representation of the Liblab adherence to the futility of the dig-it-up, ship-it-out structure of our economy.

    Unless someone can make a coherent case about how we are going to transform Australia from a dirty fossil quarry to one that is a primary industry provider of renewable energy to Asia (a-la Desertec) and food we're done.

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  8. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

    I find it interesting that no-one has leapt to the defence of coal capture and storage (CCS).

    For me it has always been obvious that the problem CCS solved was not reducing emissions, but how to appear to be concerned about cutting emissions without harming the coal industry.

    Because the media (including the ABC) these days tend to accept anything which is supported by both Labor and Liberal as non-controversial, I don't think we have had any real public debate over whether or not CSS can be an important part of action on climate change.

    What sort of democracy is this when key issues are not even discussed?

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Chris McGrath

      The ABC provides much better coverage of issues when you watch Lateline and listen to some of the excellent radio shows.

      But the dissent from Liberal and Labor views almost never gets into their main coverage.

      As an example, having watched the 7pm ABC TV News in Melbourne every night, I can think of only two times when they said that there was public opposition to keeping troops in Afghanistan. The first was when a report on the death of British troops mentioned that there was growing public…

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  9. Megan Evans
    Megan Evans is a Friend of The Conversation.

    PhD Candidate in Environmental Policy & Economics at Australian National University

    Thanks for such a clear article, Chris. Bravo indeed for those standing up and calling out the White Paper for what it is.
    Cheers, Megan

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  10. Tim Scanlon

    Debunker

    Ahhh politics, the ancient art of saying one thing and doing another.

    I encourage everyone to complain loudly and frequently that our government is not taking climate change seriously.

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      But Tim, as most Labor voters thought that under Gillard there would not be a tax on carbon this term, it is only fair to say that her government is tackling climate change with the carbon tax more than the voters expected.

      Gillard has (been forced to) over perform. It is the voters who are to blame that more is not happening.

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    2. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      She hasn't over performed at all.

      Governments and members of parliament/senate are elected officials of the people who are there to make decisions on behalf of the people in response to the issues of the day. Climate change is an issue that needs to be dealt with, so every Australian has the right to expect their government to do something about it, no matter what promises or pandering to scaremongering was done during an election campaign.

      I agree that voters are to blame. They are unwilling…

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    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Five years of internet filter rubbish from Conroy - who, with the support of Rudd and Gillard, originally intended to ban all x-rated content. Conroy also deliberately confused the public pretending that Refused Classification was the same as illegal content to own and that this was about child porn when it was about censoring so much more.

      I strongly agree with you that those elected have a moral responsibility to face reality and lead the people to a better future. For me one of the most evil…

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    4. Grant Burfield

      Dr

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      "Ahhh politics, the ancient art of saying one thing and doing another". Couldn't agree more Tim but in Australia it's a modern art form as well. An example ......

      "There will be no carbon (sic) tax under a Government I lead"

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    5. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Grant Burfield

      I believe that Gillard meant this. If she had won power in her own right there would be no price on carbon now.

      But neither Gillard nor Abbott won in their own right. Both had to compromise to form government.

      Abbott was so willing to compromise to get the independents support that at least one decided to back Gillard because she was more responsible.

      A better example of lying is people like Baillieu, the Liberal premier in Victoria, who has reneged on some of his election promises.

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  11. Garry Baker

    researcher

    Yet another "white" paper, with this one based on the magic pudding syndrome. (A code brown warning, one might suggest) Australia has no more than 8% of the worlds coal resources yet by far it's the biggest exporter of coal... and to boot, the exporters of that coal are largely foreign owned corporations. NSW, for instance, should be pretty well tapped out of its own coal reserves within three decades, leaving nothing for children being born today. Though QLD, the coal revenue addicted state…

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  12. Gerard Dean

    Managing Director

    Mr McGrath

    You said, "If we are to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilisation developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, we need to phase out emissions from fossil fuels rapidly."

    Modern life requires the massive consumption of energy; electricity for our homes, hospitals, schools and factories and liquid fuels for our cars, trucks, tractors, tanks and fighter planes. For the most part, we have no choice but to burn, burn, burn, however, there is one thing we have discretionary control over - our choice whether or not to fly overseas for holidays and conferences.

    Do you choose to fly, Mr McGrath, and if so, how do you ethically justify your decision, given your call for me to rapidly phase out fossil fuel burning?

    Gerard Dean

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    1. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      If you click on the link I provided you'll see that the reference is to Hansen's 2008 paper on target CO2 and the context was he was discussing the past 12,000 years since the end of the last glacial period in which the Earth's temperature has been relatively stable.

      That is the period in which "civilisation" developed and to which the current life on Earth is adapted (in terms of sea level, etc). By massively increasing CO2 in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, we are going to knock our…

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    2. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Chris McGrath

      Thank you for responding to my comment. I do respect your decision not to fly overseas for holidays and conferences.

      You do however, misrepresent my comment when you claim, 'You paint a false choice by saying it is burn all our fossil fuels or go back to the Dark Ages.'

      I have thoroughly checked my comment and I did not say that at all. In fact, I think that eventually our power, both electrical and liquid will have to come from renewable and nuclear sources.

      My point is simply that, whilst…

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    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      "Real inovation will occur when we run out of oil and coal" - totally ignoring then need to cut emissions now to prevent climate change.

      And Chris McGrath, when Gerald is so obviously a climate change denier, and so obviously a troll, (and to me very likely being paid to disrupt this conversation), don't get distracted by his low level points - tackle him on his denial of the science of climate change.

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    4. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      Gerard, I don't think you are making much sense. To the extent that you are agreeing with the 'burn it all' approach in the Energy White Paper, I disagree. If we follow this course we will lose things like the Great Barrier Reef as well as cause untold suffering for billions of people around the globe and for millenia.

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    5. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Ahh, the voice of reason has interrupted an otherwise intelligent discussion.

      Mr Wilbur-Ham, it is good to see you continue to attack the man, not my argument.

      As I have said before, if a Denier is a person who does not believe humans make a big impact on the earth's climate, then I am a Denier.

      As a Denier, I am free from the ethical dilemma that you, a climate change believer, must face whenever you CHOOSE to let a few thousand litres of JetA1 fossil fuel push your A380 on it's way to…

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    6. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      Gerard, even leaving aside all of the other evidence that humans are having a big impact on climate, it is hard to look at what is happening in the Arctic and still think we are not playing a major role.

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    7. Neil Gibson

      Retired Electronics Engineer

      In reply to Chris McGrath

      It is only hard if you think Arctic history started in 1979 with satellite monitoring adn ignore earlier records.
      http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/23668813?searchTerm=%22climate%20change%22&searchLimits=
      http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=i3ZWAAAAIBAJ&sjid=2OQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1581,5524109&dq=heat+wave+north+pole&hl=en
      http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=i3ZWAAAAIBAJ&sjid=2OQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1581,5524109&dq=heat+wave+north+pole&hl=en
      The Arctic has a history of melting and freezing. The satellite graphs date from an Arctic maximum and summer ice has decreased since then. The Winston Smiths of the alarmist movement have erased earlier Arctic history from analysis as they erased the MWP. Unfortunately unlike medieval times in the last century we have newspaper records.

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    8. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      We lost a former governor of Van Diemen's Land in the Arctic in 1847, attempting to find the fabled Northwest Passage.

      That was a cold year.

      Now the oil industries are celebrating the total loss of the Arctic ice sheet.

      Yum ~ more oil ~ and Russia is asserting a monster claim on the sea bed.

      China is not hanging about, having already sent a ship to Europe through the now opening Northwest Passage.

      The north is getting busy.

      What will that warmer air do to the Greenland ice block, with enough water to raise sea levels by 7 metres ~ and how quickly?

      Climate scientists, erring on the side of caution, were telling us that the Arctic ice sheet would still be there in 2050.

      How could they be so wrong?

      Kim Peart
      http://www.islandearth.com.au/

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    9. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Kim Peart

      One of the most damaging things about the denialists campaign is that the science has become very cautious.

      The consensus conservative science says that we have a 95% chance of huge disruption due to climate change - and look how the denialists respond.

      So in this political environment how can the scientists say we have an unknown risk, maybe around 10%, that the Greenland ice sheet will start to melt and not be able to be stopped.

      Would any denialist buy a house that had a 10% risk of serious flooding? I doubt it.

      Would any denialist get on an aeroplane that had a 1% risk of crashing? I doubt it.

      But not only do they ignore and deny the 95% risk of conservative climate change, they have been so successful that we are not even hearing about how bad things might get.

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    10. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Any scientist worth their salt will speak the truth, no matter what the price.

      One of the grandfather scientists of climate change, James Hansen, had his documents fiddled with in Washington under an earlier administration.

      This did not stop him getting arrested at coal mining demonstrations.

      He is still the head at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and issued a chilling warning, that we are driving the planet toward becoming a second Venus, with CO2 above 350 ppm (now 400 ppm…

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    11. In reply to Kim Peart

      Comment removed by moderator.

  13. Paul Cm

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    I'm surprised everyone is surprised.

    But what upsets me is the reaction. The same old 'what gov says = gospel' attitude.

    Since when has a 30 yr gov 'plan' come true? Anyone? Never. It's just a tourist pamphlet to maintain business certainty. Fair enough, in my view.

    But what do WE do? Less doom/gloom. More solutions please!

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Paul Cm

      Most people who want change vote for the political parties who promise things will not change and then wonder why things don't change.

      There is no shortage of technical solutions. It's how people vote which is the problem.

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    2. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Paul Cm

      It's great to be positive, but as you hint at in your comment this white paper will be being discussed in energy board rooms right now.

      Long lasting choices and investment decisions will be influenced by what appears on those pages. Pretending that CCS has a future will cause tens of millions, hundreds, perhaps billions of dollars of spending diversion. That will add to a future burden of waste or dismantlingly infrastructure.

      That said, I don't think the political class has the foresight so it's going to be up to individuals to suddenly change the economics of particular low carbon propositions. A geothermal advance, a battery or hydrogen breakthrough (http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2012/s3629720.htm) or a sudden change of policy from our customers (eg China decides "no more coal").

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    3. Paul Cm

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Fair point Z, thanks for your reply.

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  14. Chris Greenaway

    unemployed societal discard

    Thanks Chris.

    As time and tide (and climate change) wait for no man I'd prefer that your considerable barristorial skills were re-directed elsewhere.

    Speaking from experience, arguing the toss over the vacuous policy documents that drift out of federal or state governments is an enervating and somewhat fruitless pastime. Moreover, the transition to more sophisticated stonewalling within the bureaucracies means catalysing change by negotiation is now barely an option.

    The letter - although…

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    1. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Chris Greenaway

      Dear Chris,

      Engaging in public discussion and education is important. We shouldn't underestimate the value of civil discourse on important topics like climate and energy policies.

      I don't really understand your point about corporations I'm sorry. Can you explain what you mean some more?

      Kind regards

      Chris

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  15. Paul Cm

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    Thanks again for the article Chris.

    I was hoping the TC staff could get a few authors together (yourself?) to publish an explainer on the White Paper, a comprehensive breakdown of what it all means, perhaps identify areas where policy will likely result, environmental outcomes, and the scenarios of domestic and exported energy. We have some great Australian energy experts communicating to us at the TC and it would be great to get a diverse set of views.

    This area has interested me for years now, and over that time it has been exciting to watch it mature and develop, the EWP2012 was going to be the high note - pity it is the disappointment I suspected. Although I consider it far from ideal, I believe it not the be all and end all (CCS?). It is not set in stone.

    Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to invest in heaps of gas reserves...

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    1. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Paul Cm

      Dear Paul,

      I've seen at least two other articles on the Energy White Paper so far on The Conversation so we're already seeing a diverse range of views. Beyond that I think anyone who is interested and a critical thinker can read the document themselves and form their own views.

      I agrree with you that it is not set in stone. I think it will be overtaken by events, not simply technological change but serious impacts from climate change such as the loss of Arctic sea ice by 2015 or 2020 leading to stronger demands for political action. It would be much better to act proactively though, rather than the crisis management that we are setting ourselves up for.

      Kind regards

      Chris

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    2. Paul Cm

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Chris McGrath

      I agree Chris, policy response should be stronger, but even now I am uncertain of exactly how this White Paper changes things (blissfullly ignorant of all things legal;). You've contributed some great articles on TC from a legal perspective, and I hope you can give us a further explainer article in that vein.

      Thanks again Chris, I appreciate your work!

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    3. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Paul Cm

      I'm not quite sure what you mean Paul.

      The Energy White Paper is a broad policy document that sets out a plan for what the government thinks the future will hold in relation to a particular issue (like energy or defence) and what it (government) plans to do about it in broad terms. There is a good explanation of the use of the term on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_paper

      It is not gospel and a future government is not obliged to follow it.

      Does that answer your question?

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    4. Paul Cm

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Chris McGrath

      Well, I'd like to say not quite that simple, but some of the commentry on EWP2012 in media I would say that is actually a good start!

      The following are explainer articles from the TC on major gov publications/policy:

      https://theconversation.edu.au/explainer-motions-of-no-confidence-and-the-constitution-5258
      https://theconversation.edu.au/explainer-the-facts-about-the-malaysian-solution-and-australias-international-obligations-1861
      https://theconversation.edu.au/explainer-the-difference-between-a-carbon-tax-and-an-ets-1679

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  16. Philip White

    PhD Student at University of Adelaide

    Just one slight correction. Uranium exports are not conditional on safe handling and disposal. Australia has "safeguards agreements" with the countries to which it exports uranium, but that only relates to "safeguards" designed to prevent nuclear proliferation. Disposal of the waste is left up to the discretion of the importer. No country has begun disposing of the spent nuclear fuel or high-level radioactive waste generated by the operation of nuclear power plants.

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    1. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Philip White

      That's a fair point Philip that the controls on uranium exports focus on preventing nuclear proliferation rather than safe disposal from an environmental perspective. Still, the two are interlinked as you can't expect to safeguard the waste from being used for nuclear weapons or terrorism unless you have a well-managed facility. Most 'disposal' is simply ongoing management at a secure facility.

      Given that Australia takes that approach for uranium exports, we could take a similiar approach to coal…

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    2. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Philip White

      Could nuclear waste be stored at Roxby Downs for backfilling of spent workings?

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  17. James Sanders

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    Isn't it clear by now that the federal and state governments are addicted to scraps that fall off the table from extractive industries? They are addicted because a balanced economy has been sacrificed in the name of global efficiency, and the tax system has not been adequately reformed.

    We've just been through the largest expansion of mining this country (and the world) has ever seen and all governments are facing a funding squeeze, while $21 trillion sits in tax havens.

    Scientists can predict all manner of ecological breakdown while the economic show goes on impervious to logic and responsibility...

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  18. Philip White

    PhD Student at University of Adelaide

    In reply to my comment Chris McGrath said, "I would argue that Australia should adopt a cradle-to-grave approach for nuclear waste from the uranium we sell and that we should accept back the waste for disposal in Australia."

    People who make this suggestion never point out that the nuclear waste that comes out of a nuclear power plant is millions of times more radioactive than the uranium Australia exports. Australians should take responsibility for the problems arising from the uranium they export, but that doesn't mean they should accept the spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste generated in nuclear power plants. For a start, there are huge risks involved with the land and marine transport of this waste.

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    1. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Philip White

      I would acknowledge those points but maybe that is a good reason for not mining it in the first place or at least for not selling uranium to countries like Japan and South Korea that have difficulty finding isolated, geologically stable sites for disposal?

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  19. Chris McGrath

    Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

    Ben Eltham writing on ABC's The Drum makes similar points to the ones made in this article at http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4363398.html

    He states:

    "But one aspect of the White Paper has been relatively little remarked upon. This is its utter incoherence on the issue of climate change. Labor's White Paper appears to believe that climate change is something that only happens at home. Fossil fuels being burnt overseas appear not to count.

    ... somewhere in the drafting of the document…

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  20. Carol Mwape

    logged in via Facebook

    Thanks Chris for the article and the analysis. I would like to add that governments and the energy industry need to start investing in cleaner energy sources now. we are still far off the mark from dealing with historical emissions, it worries to think of how much green house gas concentrations we are heading for with other emerging economies in Asia and Africa adding to the current levels. political leaders and corporate executives need to come to terms that there is business and cost saving in taking green growth pathways.

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  21. Michael Shand
    Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Software Tester

    Excellant article, thanks for posting

    Really strong too the point and un-ashamed to state the truth - this is the type of journalism we need

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  22. Bob Bingham

    Mr.

    Coal is only cheap as long as you can put pollution into the atmosphere for free. Each ton of coal produces 2.5 tons of CO2. Disposing of that is expensive, so why bother with burning coal in the first place?
    Australia is like a tobacco farmer with lung cancer and its difficult to see how you are going to get out of it.

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    1. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Bob Bingham

      The tobacco farmer is a good analogy Bob. Thinking of ourselves as a cigarette company seeking to downplay the risk of lung cancer so that we can stay in business is even better.

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  23. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    Thanks for this, Dr McGrath.

    You write that a premise of the White Paper seems to be that it sets out: "plans to diversify energy production and includes initiatives for renewable energy but this is additional to burning all of our coal and gas reserves."

    This is inconsistent with climate science, from which we already know that the safe upper limit for atmospheric CO2 is 350 ppm (currently 390-400 ppm and rising). If we burn all Australia's fossil fuel reserves, we face the prospect of…

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    1. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to David Arthur

      Thanks David, I agree that the Energy White Paper is inconsistent with what climate science tells us is a safe level of CO2. That's the key point I was trying to make in the article.

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  24. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    Dr McGrath highlights the following howler contained in the Energy White Paper: "Over the next two and a half decades, Australia’s energy production is projected to more than double, largely due to export growth. We are the world’s largest coal exporter and third-largest uranium producer, and in future years will be the world’s second-largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter."

    This White Paper projection is shown to be a load of codswallop by reading reports of current research findings; one collection is at Reuters' Science Daily news site, http://www.sciencedaily.com/news/earth_climate/. This work will inform the next IPCC Assessment (AR6 WG1 due in 2013), and the governments of the world will commence decarbonising their industries sooner rather than later.

    Bad luck, fossil fuel investors.

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    1. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to David Arthur

      Accelerated emissions of greenhouse gas methane from its permafrost reservoir has been observed over recent decades. This process is significant because it is a natural augmentation of atmospheric greenhouse gases that has been initiated by human-caused warming, but is not directly controllable by the international community.

      The issue with large-scale methane release to the atmosphere is that it may initiate a warming event akin to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which took place ~55 million…

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  25. Edward Kleingeerts

    retired

    How long are we going to debate while "Rome is burning" we have to come to some conclusion rather sooner than later. We seem to be well behind other nations who are rolling out the renewable energy at a great rate. I believe we should act now. We can do it, just a matter of political will, there is so much in our favor, unlimited sunshine, an infinite coastline for wave power etc. etc. I think we must think past the Hills Hoist, what we need is more R&D and become a smarter country.

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    1. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Edward Kleingeerts

      I agree with the sentiment in your comment Ed, but the call for just "more R&D" can be a recipe for delay. Just look at the use that is made in the Energy White Paper of CCS research and the promise of the CCS tooth fairy arriving around 2040 to continue mining and burning enormous amounts of coal.

      Large scale energy innovations are hard won and typically take decades. We have to deploy the technologies that we have available now, such as concentrated solar thermal, and rapidly phase-out the sources of carbon pollution such as coal-fired power stations.

      Where there is a gap between what we want and what we can afford or current technology can deliver without contributing to climate change, we need to accept and live with that gap. Technology and behavioural change must work in combination to solve this massive problem.

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  26. Arthur James Egleton Robey

    Industrial Electrician

    Mr Darwin is going to give us a practical demonstration of his Theory.
    Let us hope that the rich, fat, stupid and exceedingly ugly step up onto the stage first.

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