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Analysis and Comment (52)

Australian coal needs to find some new customers. Australian coal needs to find some new customers. Stephen Codrington/Wikimedia Commons

China’s war on pollution could leave Aussie coal out in the cold

China’s recent move to limit imports of the dirtiest coal from 2015 onwards is a scary prospect for Australian miners. The proposed restrictions will ban the burning of coal with high levels of ash or…
World greenhouse emissions reached a new record in 2013 and will be even higher in 2014, driven largely by the continued use of fossil fuels such as coal. World greenhouse emissions reached a new record in 2013 and will be even higher in 2014, driven largely by the continued use of fossil fuels such as coal. nito/Shutterstock

Global carbon report: emissions will hit new heights in 2014

As heads of state gather in New York for tomorrow’s United Nations climate summit, a new report on the state of the world’s carbon budget tells them that greenhouse emissions hit a new record last year…
Is the ABC biased against fossil fuels? The IPA thinks so, but it’s not really the most constructive question to ask. Is the ABC biased against fossil fuels? The IPA thinks so, but it’s not really the most constructive question to ask. AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy

Claims of ABC anti-coal and gas ‘bias’ aren’t backed by the facts

It’s tempting to view The Australian’s latest broadside at the ABC as just another salvo fired between our nation’s two biggest media organisations. But the coverage, based on an Institute of Public Affairs…
The International Energy Agency was set up to avoid a repeat of the 1973 oil crisis - but four decades later the rules need updating. The International Energy Agency was set up to avoid a repeat of the 1973 oil crisis - but four decades later the rules need updating. David Falconer/US Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

The G20 has a crucial role in preventing future energy crises

Next week, Brisbane hosts the final meeting of the G20 Energy Sustainability Working Group before the main G20 summit in November. Government officials and energy experts from 20 of the most powerful countries…
Wind farms: great, unless it’s not windy. Wind farms: great, unless it’s not windy. mattinbgn/Wikimedia Commons

Renewables still have a long way to go to compete with fossil fuels

Australia has some fairly ambitious goals for green energy: a renewable energy target (currently under review) of 20% of electricity from renewables by 2020, and a forecast to get 51% of electricity from…
While there may be gold beneath the surface, it’s hard to reach. While there may be gold beneath the surface, it’s hard to reach. Wu Hong/EPA

US-style fracking success far from guaranteed on British soil

Britain’s energy-hungry population is highly dependent on oil and gas, which powers around two thirds of the UK’s energy needs. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) projects that by 2030…
Universities have led the charge on fossil fuel divestment - but is divestment the best way to manage climate risks? Universities have led the charge on fossil fuel divestment - but is divestment the best way to manage climate risks? Light Brigading/Flickr

In Conversation with Robert Litterman: divestment is a blunt weapon in the climate fight

Divestment from fossil fuels, advocated by climate action campaigners such as Bill McKibben, is a blunt instrument for reducing carbon emissions, according to climate risk analyst Robert Litterman in an…
Methane hydrates - fire ice from deep under the sea. Methane hydrates - fire ice from deep under the sea. Wusel007

Japan’s quest to tap the natural gas beneath the ocean floor

Last year Japanese scientists announced they had for the first time extracted gas from offshore deposits of methane hydrate, an ice-like substance made of natural gas (methane) trapped inside water crystals…
It depends if the price is right, it seems. It depends if the price is right, it seems. Peter Byrne/PA

Fracking will be tried in the court of public opinion in 2015

There has been an anxious search for new sources of fossil fuels, and shale gas appears to offer Britain a key national resource. But the nation’s new-found hydrocarbon wealth has met with far from universal…
Two dozen ships anchored outside Gladstone harbour in 2008, waiting to load coal. Two dozen ships anchored outside Gladstone harbour in 2008, waiting to load coal. milton.v1/Flickr

Australia’s biggest coal state plans for life beyond coal

We are in the coal business. If you want decent hospitals, schools and police on the beat we all need to understand that. – Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, June 2012. It was a rare moment of unscripted…
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim warns investors not to ignore climate risks. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim warns investors not to ignore climate risks. EPA/Chris Kleponis

Fossil fuel campaigners win support from unexpected places

If you haven’t heard about the growing campaign for fossil fuel divestment, and what it means for both your retirement funds and for the global economy, it’s time to pay attention - because now even the…
Is this a sunset, or sunrise, for fracking? Is this a sunset, or sunrise, for fracking? danielfoster437

Shale gas: make polluters pay for the social cost of fracking

While the prime minister has shown unequivocal support for exploiting Britain’s shale gas reserves, stating the country should “go all out for shale gas”, more cautious voices point to possible effects…
Will countries outside the US take on the risks of shale oil? Will countries outside the US take on the risks of shale oil? Flickr/ Randy Udall

Shale oil: the boom heard around the world

The US is in the midst of an oil boom. Shale gas has grabbed much attention, and rightly so. But it is shale oil (a light, crude oil found in shale or tight sandstone, and also known also as tight oil…
There’s more oil down there, and it’s the regulator’s job to make sure it comes up. There’s more oil down there, and it’s the regulator’s job to make sure it comes up. AP/PA

Compel firms to extract North Sea oil in the nation’s interest

For decades the UK has been accustomed to filling its coffers with the bounty from North Sea oil and gas, and the jobs and tax receipts it has brought. At one time exports helped balance the books and…
Touch of salt needed, I think. Touch of salt needed, I think. Heng Sinith/AP

Improving cookstoves will help save lives - and the planet

Around three billion people in the world, largely in developing countries, rely on fuels like wood and charcoal for cooking and heating in the home. But burning these biomass fuels, not least in confined…
Yasuni National Park in Ecuador is one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. It’s home to country’s largest oil field. Yasuni National Park in Ecuador is one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. It’s home to country’s largest oil field. Flickr/joshbousel

Leave it in the ground! How fossil fuel extraction affects biodiversity

Greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels have resulted in well-publicised changes to the Earth’s climate. But the impacts of fossil fuels start long before their carbon dioxide reaches…
It’s too late for this ship, but practical strategies for tackling climate change are needed fast. It’s too late for this ship, but practical strategies for tackling climate change are needed fast. Staecker

Give us practical climate solutions, not more problems

Scientists have hammered home once again the message that climate change is very real and very important. Climate scientists have been saying this for decades, yet carbon emissions worldwide continue to…
There’s plenty of oil, but at what price? There’s plenty of oil, but at what price? arbyreed/Flickr

Peak oil is alive and well, and costing the earth

You might have heard that peak oil - the theory that one day crude oil production will stop increasing, even as demand grows - is dead. Shale oil production is surging in the US. The premiere peak oil…
Recent reports reveal that the cost of environmental damage far outweighs the cost of business model restructuring. Recent reports reveal that the cost of environmental damage far outweighs the cost of business model restructuring. Image from www.shutterstock.com

Dollar signs of the times: how our politicians are costing the Earth

One of the most depressing and puzzling features of the current election campaign is the lack of emphasis on the costs that environmental risks pose to industry and business. Australian politicians appear…
The single well drilled in Balcombe caused more protest than thousands drilled in the US. The single well drilled in Balcombe caused more protest than thousands drilled in the US. Gareth Fuller/PA

As US shale industry falters, a UK fracking boom is unlikely

While the discovery of what appear to be substantial gas resources under UK soil is an intriguing opportunity for the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the country’s energy companies, lessons…
Coal has become part of Australia’s economic landscape, and questioning it is difficult. Coal has become part of Australia’s economic landscape, and questioning it is difficult. Bill Collison

Book review: Big Coal

Burning coal is the one of the main sources of greenhouse gases, but mining expansion continues apace in Australia. Given the all-but unqualified support of federal and state governments for new mining…
Chapelcross, Scotland: decisions over our future sources of energy won’t wait until the cows come home. Chapelcross, Scotland: decisions over our future sources of energy won’t wait until the cows come home. Magnox Sites Ltd

Nuclear subsidies: a gamble on the price of gas

Providing power to the nation is no small task. It requires considerable forward planning, involves huge costs and considerable risks. More risk and cost, in fact, than most energy providers can stomach…
Putting panels on your roof reduces your power bill, but it also reduces the risk of price rises for everyone on the network. Putting panels on your roof reduces your power bill, but it also reduces the risk of price rises for everyone on the network. murphyz/Flickr

Rooftop solar reduces the risk of price hikes … for everyone

How much would you pay to avoid another $250 a year hike in your electricity bill? Does $15 a year sound like too much to reduce that risk? We’ve heard a lot lately about rising electricity prices. That’s…
The body of people and organisations speaking out against fuel and energy subsidies is growing. The body of people and organisations speaking out against fuel and energy subsidies is growing. AAP Image/Penny Bradfield

Subsidies for unburnable carbon need to go up in smoke

More than half of global greenhouse gas emissions come from burning fossil fuels. Reducing and eventually eliminating fossil fuel use is a critical priority. Most of the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves…
The debate around the Keystone XL pipeline represents concern over the environmental effects of non-conventional fossil fuels. The debate around the Keystone XL pipeline represents concern over the environmental effects of non-conventional fossil fuels. Flickr/shannonpatrick

US non-conventional fossil fuel: environmental risks

In the US, extraction of non-conventional fossil fuels is booming. Investment in extra-heavy and heavy oils, oil shales and sands, tight oil and gas, shale gas and coal seam gas is taking off as companies…
A boom in cheap gas is weaning the US off foreign fossil fuels, and that has implications for geo-politics. A boom in cheap gas is weaning the US off foreign fossil fuels, and that has implications for geo-politics. EPA/JIM LO SCALZO

How is US non-conventional fossil fuel affecting the rest of the world?

Instead of increased reliance on gas imports expected five years ago the US now has an abundance of cheap gas for domestic use, and is even projecting LNG exports. Reliance on oil imports has fallen from…
If you don’t deal with road transport, you’re really not dealing with emissions. If you don’t deal with road transport, you’re really not dealing with emissions. Rachel Wray

Oil’s well in the white paper’s version of future transport

Much of the recent debate over Australia’s new Energy White Paper deals with climate change, the planned growth of Australia’s coal and gas exports, and the future of electricity sector. And although when…
Several countries have backed away from nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Several countries have backed away from nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster in Japan. http://www.theenvironmentalblog.org/, http://www.flickr.com/photos/environmentblog

Fossil fuel subsidies up, nuclear power down: IEA

Market-distorting fossil fuel subsidies rose 30% from 2010 to 2011, stymying efforts to boost the renewables sector and reduce greenhouse emissions worldwide, a new global report has found. The 2012 World…
Sign of things to come: a depleted Lake Hume in 2007, when the big dry still had a couple years to run. Sign of things to come: a depleted Lake Hume in 2007, when the big dry still had a couple years to run. Flickr/Tim J Keegan

Climate change and Victoria: high time to innovate, adapt, and cope

Victoria has entered a critical decade in the race to adapt for the stresses of climate change, according to a new report from the Climate Commission. Following the release of Victorian climate impacts…
A cleaner, more efficient Australia will blend smart grids and meters with renewable power’s growing capacity. Pictured: Spain’s Gemasolar concentrated solar thermal power plant. A cleaner, more efficient Australia will blend smart grids and meters with renewable power’s growing capacity. Pictured: Spain’s Gemasolar concentrated solar thermal power plant. Gemasolar

Challenge 13: smart energy demand and renewable supply

In part 13 of our multi-disciplinary Millennium Project series, Mark Diesendorf argues that it is high time we got smart about power: how we generate it and how we deliver it. Global challenge 13: How…
State of dependency: Australia imports the majority of its oil for the first time since 1970. State of dependency: Australia imports the majority of its oil for the first time since 1970. Flickr/Sr. Samolo

Australia’s growing oil imports are an energy security issue

For all the talk about Australia’s resource and energy riches and the country’s economy riding the waves of a resource boom, one facet of the country’s energy situation has largely been under the radar…
Do you see the light? Solar costs are comparable to fossil fuels, and are falling 45% annually. Do you see the light? Solar costs are comparable to fossil fuels, and are falling 45% annually. Flickr/MyEye85

Newsflash: solar power costs are falling below fossil fuels

Recent postings to The Conversation have enlivened the debate over the “Great Transition” that is underway all around the world from the fossil-fuelled energy systems of the 20th century to the renewably…
Embrace the blazing sphere. Embrace the blazing sphere. AAP/EPA/NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

Set the controls for the heart of the sun: time for solar courage

John Gardner, US Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare joined Lyndon Johnson’s cabinet in 1965 to help create a ‘Great Society’ to end poverty, promote equality, improve education, rejuvenate cities…
Driving away from fossil fuels: fields of rapeseed which is used in biofuels, many of which are under development in Australia and abroad. Driving away from fossil fuels: fields of rapeseed which is used in biofuels, many of which are under development in Australia and abroad. Flickr/roger g1

Growing the grunt: developing green biofuels for Australia

In 300 BC, the Syrian city of Antioch had public street lighting fuelled by olive oil. At the 1900 Paris World Fair, German inventor Rudolph Diesel demonstrated his engine powered by peanut oil. Biofuels…
Humanity’s control of fire has led to a vastly changed atmosphere. Humanity’s control of fire has led to a vastly changed atmosphere. Jason A Samfield

The discovery of fire: initial steps toward anthropogenic climate change

The evidence for a rapid shift in state of the terrestrial atmosphere-ocean system over the last two centuries (see figure 1) requires a deep time perspective, beyond events of the day. Tracing the original…
Environmentalists are getting off the streets and into the courts in an effort to stop coal. Environmentalists are getting off the streets and into the courts in an effort to stop coal. Takver

Dragging coal through the courts: an alternative emissions-reduction strategy

The bill creating the carbon price has passed through Parliament. However, the campaigning efforts of the environmental lobby will not pause. More than ever, the coal industry is in its sights, with court…
There are several options for future energy generation. We just need to get there. There are several options for future energy generation. We just need to get there. waldopepper

Stepping stones: the slippery path to a clean energy future

In news today, the Greens are calling for an end to federal funding for a proposed coal- and gas-fuelled power plant in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. Others have suggested the plant provides a source of “transition…
Future fuels will be made from a range of raw materials, including algae. Future fuels will be made from a range of raw materials, including algae. SandiaLabs

Explainer: the evolution of biofuels

It’s one of the key challenges of our generation: transforming our global energy use from emissions-intensive, non-renewable fossil fuels to low-carbon, sustainable energy technologies. The challenge for…
Solar is now a viable industry that should be taken seriously. Solar is now a viable industry that should be taken seriously. AFP Photo/Sakis Mitrolidis

Solar will force coal and nuclear out of the energy business

A solar energy revolution is brewing that will put the coal and nuclear industries out of business. Solar is already reaching price parity with coal in many parts of Australia. In contrast to coal and…
Gas wells are popping up across the country. Gas wells are popping up across the country. AAP

Explainer: coal seam gas, shale gas and fracking in Australia

Debate is intensifying over the extraction of coal seam gas, particularly in NSW and Queensland. Farmers are protesting over safety concerns and threats to the country’s food security. The Greens and the…
What can you do with a hole in the ground? It’s about more than planting trees. What can you do with a hole in the ground? It’s about more than planting trees. OZinOH/flickr

Sending mines to rehab: good for health, good for the environment

In late 1986, residents of Diamond St, Kingston, an outer southern suburb of Brisbane, began to notice a black sludge-like substance seeping through the soil and into their gardens. Within six months…
Winds of change: Julia Gillard’s comparison is politically convenient, but doesn’t make sense. Winds of change: Julia Gillard’s comparison is politically convenient, but doesn’t make sense. AAP

Like chalk and queso: Australia and Spain’s energy profiles aren’t the same

Prime Minister Julia Gillard last week used the example of Spain to indicate how Australia’s energy mix could be transformed. The potential for this transformation is nothing more than wishful thinking…
The movie Gasland galvanised the public on the dangers of fracking. The movie Gasland galvanised the public on the dangers of fracking. Gasland

NSW’s coal seam gas ban - where the frack to next?

Fracking. It’s a hotbed of controversy that spans our increasingly energy-hungry globe. The French have turned their back on it. Permanently. And now the NSW government has temporarily frozen the use of…
Believe it or not, sulphur emissions are keeping us cooler. Believe it or not, sulphur emissions are keeping us cooler. lillicomanche/flickr

Beyond two degrees celsius: sulphur won’t save us for long

The Earth energy balance – the difference between energy/heat absorbed by the Earth from solar radiation and the energy/heat emitted back to space – is currently offset by the cooling effect of sulphur…
Renewables or fossil fuels, we’ll send them offshore when it makes sense. Renewables or fossil fuels, we’ll send them offshore when it makes sense. Flickr/nosha

Australian energy may be more useful abroad than at home

Australia is a major energy exporter. Are we going to continue to increase our contribution to Asia’s energy mix? Will it be clean energy? And is it possible that our best renewable energy resources will…
A carbon tax priced at $26 per tonne could raise $11.5 billion in the first year, said economist Ross Garnaut. A carbon tax priced at $26 per tonne could raise $11.5 billion in the first year, said economist Ross Garnaut. AAP

Final Garnaut climate change review: the experts respond

Economist Professor Ross Garnaut has released his final report to the government on climate change and the economy. The report says global warming is expected to continue and estimates that a $26 per tonne…
Coal seam gas drilling threatens our most arable land. Coal seam gas drilling threatens our most arable land. «Jonny Boy»/flickr

Coal seam gas a risk to food security

Coal seam gas has been touted by some as the answer to our addiction to dirty coal. It’s marketed as a “transition fuel” that will ween us off fossil fuels as we move to renewable energy. But the process…
For politicians, there’s no bright future in pushing up petrol prices. For politicians, there’s no bright future in pushing up petrol prices. Alcohol Gasoline/Flickr

Driving off a cliff? The politics of petrol and carbon-pricing

Politically, increasing petrol prices is one of the least popular things a government can do. But is there any point to a carbon tax if it doesn’t cover petrol? Vladimir Putin has just found how quickly…
Our old-fashioned addiction will be hard to kick. Our old-fashioned addiction will be hard to kick. JD Hancock/flickr

Going up: peak oil wolf is scratching at the door

Oil is a finite and non-renewable resource. Its production is going to peak. “Peak oil” is the point at which half of the world’s original endowment of oil has been extracted. This is the point at which…
At least three-quarters of city commuters travel by car. At least three-quarters of city commuters travel by car. AAP

Carbon tax on petrol has zero chance of cutting emissions

Emissions trading is back in the news and in national political debate, as is the related question of how it will affect Australian motorists. Fair enough. This should receive attention because greenhouse…

Research and News (8)

Research Briefs (4)

Call to arms to capture energy

Storing electricity to use later is critically important to the energy sector and in reducing carbon emissions. In the US…