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Why Australia must stop exporting coal

Why get worked up about our climate responsibilities when Australia’s contribution to global emissions – around 1.5% of the total - is small? Here is the usual reply. Australia’s domestic greenhouse gas…

A coal ship caught on Nobby’s Beach in Newcastle. The city is the biggest in the world for coal exports. asnewlibrarian/Flick

Why get worked up about our climate responsibilities when Australia’s contribution to global emissions – around 1.5% of the total - is small?

Here is the usual reply. Australia’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions means it ranks 12th among the planet’s 195-plus nations. We are 16th in the world for domestic CO2 emissions alone. And our per capita emissions are among the highest in the world. So our contribution to global warming is much greater than we often recognise.

But by another view Australia’s role is vastly more significant, and our climate and energy export policies are positively schizophrenic in response. Specifically, Labor’s national energy export policy undermines and overwhelms any benefits from its domestic climate policy efforts.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change requires nations to account for emissions produced within their borders. However this approach displaces and unjustly lessens the burden of responsibility of states, companies and consumers that sit “before” or “after” the point where those emissions are released.

As a result, consumers of imported manufactured goods and exporters of fossil fuels remain unaccountable for their roles in the co-production of emissions released at a “distance”.

“Embodied carbon” and trade in unburned fossil fuels

Some aspects of the relationship between trade and emissions are coming under increasing scrutiny. For instance, it is now widely acknowledged that approximately 25% to 33% of China’s total national emissions now result from production for export markets. These are “embodied” emissions that have largely been “displaced” to China from countries that formerly manufactured but now import these goods.

China now has a carbon tax on certain exported goods and France has proposed border adjustment taxes on imports from countries without a carbon price – both moves intended to level the playing field in traded embodied carbon.

By contrast, little attention has paid to trade in unprocessed (or unburned) fossil fuels, which shifts responsibility for emissions from fossil fuel exporting nations and companies to the middle-consumers (the states and companies involved in producing emissions using these fuels for power or manufacturing). How convenient for the beneficiaries - countries such as Australia, Canada, the Russian Federation, and Saudi Arabia.

Powering the “world’s factory” has put China at the top of global carbon emitters. The E/Flickr

Australia - world’s largest coal exporter

While Australia’s domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions represent some 1.5% of the global total, its global carbon footprint – the total amount of carbon it pushes out into the global economy - is much bigger.

Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter. By adding emissions from exported coal to our domestic emissions, Australia’s carbon footprint trebles. Its coal exports alone currently contribute at least another 3.3% of global emissions.

In aggregate, therefore, Australia is at present the source of at least 4.8% of total global emissions. That’s without considering natural gas exports.

This alternative viewpoint underscores the importance of Greenpeace’s recent claim that proposed “mega coal mines” in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, producing for export, would be responsible for 705 million tonnes of CO2 per year and would turn that region alone into the world’s seventh largest contributor of emissions.

Good reasons for this larger perspective

Why take this alternative view? First, such a re-framing makes visible a range of hidden but significant national responsibilities for climate change. It is a more honest calibration of the mitigation/adaptation responsibilities and burdens of specific states. Countries like Australia benefit economically from this trade – and from fuelling climate change - without acknowledging that benefit or the costs.

Second, it undermines already spurious claims that Australia’s contribution to the problem of climate change is trivial.

When its current domestic carbon dioxide emissions and its exported CO2 emissions are combined, Australia ranks as the planet’s 6th largest emitter of CO2 - after China, the USA, the Russian Federation, India and Indonesia. It is responsible directly and indirectly for over 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 per year – more than Germany’s emissions (population 82 million) and the UK’s emissions (population 62 million) combined.

If planned and projected increases in Australian coal and gas exports are realised, our carbon footprint will more than double again over the coming decades. By 2030, Australia would be directly and indirectly responsible for over 2 billion tonnes of exported GHG emissions per year.

Harm avoidance

Still, should we reduce our coal exports in a global system geared to direct-emitters’ responsibility?

Consider the principle of harm avoidance. This is a widely recognised principle, including under international law. It has been enshrined in the Stockholm Convention 1972 and the Rio Declaration of 1992.

These international declarations – to which Australia is a signatory - state that parties “have the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States”. Trade in injurious substances flies in the face of the harm avoidance principle.

By analogy, think of how most legal systems view sellers of asbestos or heroin, or of the growing reaction to the sale of tobacco.

It’s not okay for cigarette companies to ignore the harm done by their products, so why is it for miners? lanier67/Flickr
In these cases, we are no longer prepared to buy the argument that harm is a case of “buyer beware”. Instead, we ascribe responsibility for trade in a harmful substance substantially (in the case of heroin or asbestos) or significantly (in the case of cigarette producers) to their predatory traders.

Leaving the responsibility for mitigation to others involves an abrogation of ethical responsibility to the market and to the atomised consumer. If you are not convinced by this view – think of the heroin dealer’s defence: “I do no harm, yer Honour. I only sell the stuff. They’re the ones that inject it.”

The second argument is purely pragmatic. The greater our dependency on a coal/gas export economy, the greater the economic distortions and social perils for Australia in the longer term. Australia’s export energy boom is generating an economy unsustainably dependent on the returns of that sector.

If the end to the fossil energy boom is abrupt, the trauma to Australia’s economy will be significant. How will we provide regional structural adjustment assistance in the Hunter Valley and Bowen Basin, especially if this adjustment trauma is accompanied by increasing demands for climate adaptation and disaster relief funding (think Flood Levy)?

Killing the goose?

It must seem crazy-brave to propose a tax on coal exports given falling coal prices and political anxiety about the power of the mining industry.

It must seem crazier still to propose an immediate moratorium on further expansion and to plan for the sector to be wound back. But in each case, that is what Labor should do.

Labor first should immediately freeze Australia’s expanding global carbon footprint by capping export volumes.

Second, it should simultaneously establish a carbon fund to provide for longer term structural adjustment costs domestically and for investment in energy alternatives in developing nations currently importing our fuels. Even a modest levy of $2 per tonne of exported coal would now net almost $800 million per year.

More than this, though, Australia needs a national energy strategy based on this shift in perspective. It involves reconfiguring our understanding of Australia’s very substantial international role in the climate game and winding back our fossil fuel export sector within a decade.

Ultimately change will be forced upon us, whether or not we like it, or are prepared. Even the most conservative IPCC and IEA estimates suggest that global fossil fuel use will need to contract substantially by 2050 if we are to limit global warming to 2 degrees celsius. Australia itself has adopted an emissions mitigation policy of -80% by 2050. This is less than 38 years away.

Major importers are already moving to cap and reduce their coal consumption. Our export carbon sector is clearly unsustainable if the rest of the world intends to cut fossil fuel use dramatically.

A coherent energy-climate policy would guide a rapid, planned scale-down in coal production. The chaotic alternative - the one we have now - will continue to build our coal export sector and then allow market and climate forces to combine in a perfect economic storm.

Join the conversation

222 Comments sorted by

  1. Roger Jones

    Professorial Research Fellow at Victoria University

    Excellent article, Peter.

    Even with endorsing a specific timetable or transition path, we don't have any national strategy. Instead, it's policy schizophrenia.

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    1. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Roger Jones

      I agree Roger that this is an excellent article and that we have policy schizophrenia.

      We have two Australian Governments: one that believes in addressing climate change and saving the Great Barrier Reef; another that whose paradigm is to mine, burn and export as much coal as we possibly can as quickly as we possibly can. The two are mutually incompatible, particularly given that the figleaf of carbon capture and storage has now blown away.

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    2. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Chris McGrath

      No Roger, we have only one Australian Government, and their policies and actions are consistent.

      The problem is that supporters swallow the spin and so there is little rationality in the political debate. Just like the climate change deniers ignore evidence showing they are wrong, the sad fact is that most readers of this post will ignore what I say and move on. They want to believe the spin, so they do.

      If you look at the evidence then it is clear that Labor has never intended to act properly…

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    3. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      About half way down this excellent thread of comments, I have put my nutcrackers on the table.

      I would assert here, that the core crisis is not being confronted.

      The loss of half of the Great Barrier Reef in three decades. ~ Will there be any left in the end?

      The Arctic ice sheet going. ~ May be entirely gone in the summer in 4 years.

      Ocean acidification up by 30% after the industrial era. ~ expected to increase ten-fold by 2050.

      If we want a future on this planet, we need a radical…

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    4. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Roger Jones

      For once we are all having a real discussion without the thread becoming dominated by climate change deniers and those rebutting the deniers posts.

      I don't agree with all the posts in this thread, but they are all genuine contributions to the debate - this is a real conversation.

      A simple change would enable many more conversations to be like this.

      All that needs to be done is for SOME articles to declare that the truth or otherwise of climate change is OFF TOPIC. Posting off-topic and…

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    5. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      PS - It's quiet funny really - the deniers are still very active in the threads 'After the deluge, what hope the politics of climate response?' and 'Hurricane Sandy: the new normal?'

      It is interesting to compare the denial disrupted conversations in those two articles to this thread. This shows how easily one or two deniers can hijack the whole conversation and prevent interesting discussion.

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    6. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Can I suggest Michael,

      that climate change denial is only the smaller part of a much larger denial problem.

      There is also the denial of the level of action needed to address the problem and how swiftly this needs to happen.

      We are not dealing with a simple problem that will be solved in a couple of convenient steps.

      We are confronted by the whole board game of life on Earth.

      Unfortunately, we are now finding the game is changing fast, with "Frankenstorm", with the Arctic ice loss…

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    7. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Kim Peart

      Kim,

      All the issues you raise can only be discussed if the conversation isn't hijacked by the usual denial posts.

      I challenge you to read all of the comments in the two earlier articles I referenced above. For anyone who accepts the science the endless back-and-forth between deniers and those trying to correct the record is incredibly boring.

      On the other hand I think most people will find much of value in the comments to this article.

      I disagree with you on the cost effectiveness of solar panels in space. It would be much cheaper, easier, and quicker to build solar plants on deserts on earth. And I can think of one country where there are lots of deserts which get lots of sun.

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    8. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      In terms of our cosmic survival, beyond the next super volcano or monster asteroid, not to mention the carbon crisis, the most logical source of energy is the Sun in space, as we build our survival insurance policy.

      In the long-term and with much of our industry in space, we could meet all Earth's energy needs on Earth alone, but for now with the methane clathrates beginning to dissolve, we face the potential for a dead Earth (p.223, the Venus syndrome 'Storms of My Grandchildren' by James Hansen).

      Hopefully, we will have enough time to extract excess carbon from the air and sea, before the Earth system is driven beyond repair ~ and I fear the clock may be ticking too swiftly.

      For the outer Solar System and deep space migrations, we will need fission power, though hopefully fission power will have been mastered by then.

      We have an interesting future, should we master the art of cosmic survival.

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

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  2. Michael Ashley

    Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

    Peter,

    An excellent article, thank you. Your analogies with tobacco, asbestos and heroin are spot on. Australia needs to immediately stop mining, using, and exporting coal. The writing has been on the wall for decades. I expect that it won't be long before any country using coal will be subject to punitive sanctions. The massive investments that Australia is making in coal infrastructure (railways, ports) are white elephants.

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    1. Bruce Tabor

      Research Scientist at CSIRO

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Actually the "analogies with tobacco, asbestos and heroin" are complete nonsense. Tobacco and heroin have no benefit to society, and asbestos is readily substituted with safer products. Coal is integral to the economies of China, the US and India. If we stopped shipping coal to India & China they would quickly find another resource - most probably their inefficient, dangerous & dirtier domestic mines - their coal resources are much greater than ours! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal_by_country

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    2. Walter Adamson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Bruce Tabor

      Exactly.

      We don't put the emissions into the air, the people buying the coal do. Odd how we don't mind selling uranium to India who refuses comply with UN requirements and we all know for a fact that there is as yet no safe way to store spent reactor fuel. Our gestures with respect to GHG emissions are purely symbolic, and that's quite sensible and pragmatic.

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    3. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to Bruce Tabor

      "to show developing countries how it can be done" ... South Korea is 33% nuclear and will be 50% by 2020. China is planning to have 670 TWh/yr from
      nuclear by 2020. What is Australia doing? Germany? Paying rich people to put solar panels on rooves while exporting their manufacturing industries and their associated emissions to China and South Korea. They are showing us. While we have an energy policy determined by 28 acute radiation deaths 25 years ago in an obsolete nuclear reactor in the Ukraine.

      We don't need a safe way to store current nuclear waste beyond about 10 years ... after which time it will be burned as fuel in fast neutron reactors. That's what the Chinese and the South Koreans are planning ... we can only hope that they will export the technologies to backward countries like Australia. If Clinton hadn't closed the IFR project, we'd all be doing that now and Sandy would have been a much smaller storm.

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    4. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Geoff Russell

      "South Korea is 33% nuclear and will be 50% by 2020."

      Actually it was a drop to 27% YTD in July (pp23 http://www.iea.org/stats/surveys/mes.pdf) and Kepco going broke at the same time having raised tariffs three times in 2 years by about 5% each time, with power shortages common.

      Kepco are making a huge loss and average Koreans are having to subsidise cheap industrial power.

      Having said that, the South Koreans, like the UK probably don't have too many options.

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    5. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      That will teach me for using old data. SK coal use has grown plenty in the past 2 years. Nuclear tends to come on in big slabs so I'd still be expecting SK to be way ahead of Germany by 2020. The signs are not particularly good for German solar or wind. The fact that there is a global glut of solar panels with so few actually installed says a lot ... they are running out of rich people.

      http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/q-cells-bankruptcy-heralds-end-of-german-solar-cell-industry-a-825490.html

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  3. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    For sure, make the case that stopping coal exports would reduce CO2 emissions.

    But the article talks about making 'ethical decisions'. Stopping the export of coal would make it hard for India and China to generate power. That effects poor people. It's part of the ethical equation.

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    1. Michael Ashley

      Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Anyone who has built a coal-fired power station in the last 20 years is criminally irresponsible.

      Turning off coal-fired electricity will have a big impact, but we have to do it. Every year's delay greatly increases the inevitable long-term cost and consequences. Our fossil fuel usage is on-track to place 50% of Bangladesh under water - just think of the affect that that will have on poor people.

      We need a massive, rapid, movement to renewable carbon-free energy.

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    2. David Collett

      IT Application Developer at Web Generation

      In reply to James Jenkin

      On the other hand, climate change also affects the poor.

      Furthermore, climate change affects a greater number of people as its effects are felt world wide while stopping coal exports affects only its consumers and dependants. Additionally, climate change will affect people for longer than the loss of coal-base power, as the loss of coal-based power production can be replaced by other methods of power generation, while climate change effects carry on indefinitely.

      I would argue that from a utilitarian…

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    3. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Michael, in specifying renewable are you rejecting the role of nuclear? If so, I feel this undermines the extremely solid commentary you have been putting forward across this whole thread. Uranium is and continues to be by far the major fuel source along with run of river hydro that has displaced coal at scale anywhere in the world.

      The only major argument missing in the article today is that in calling for "rapid, planned scale-down in coal production", an alternative must be presented that realistically can pick up the current and forecast future role of coal. This goes right to the heart of the China/India/Other issue. Climate change does indeed affect the poor, but so does poverty. Realistic alternatives must be presented.

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    4. Michael Ashley

      Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Ben Heard

      Ben, I agree that nuclear could well be an excellent option, perhaps an essential option, so I shouldn't have said "renewable".

      I'm in two minds though about nuclear power. The physics of nuclear energy production is compelling, particularly if fusion can be made economical. But the engineering problems in making a reliable nuclear power station are daunting. Solar/wind power is just so much simpler; but we need a solution for baseload power.

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    5. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      "Uranium is and continues to be by far the major fuel source along with run of river hydro that has displaced coal at scale anywhere in the world."

      It has done nothing of the sort. Which coal power stations have been shut down that can be directly attributed to nuclear power? The answer is NONE.

      However, Playford is idle thanks to wind energy in SA.

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    6. James Jenkin

      EFL Teacher Trainer

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Hi David and Michael, I understand your argument. I'm not saying we should blindly stick with coal.

      But there are other ethical considerations apart from climate change. As Ben suggests, switching off a quarter of the world's energy supply potentially causes serious problems affecting the most vulnerable people. This has to be part of the discussion.

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    7. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Take a breath.

      Displaced. Not replaced. There's a distinction in there that matters.

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    8. Suzy Gneist

      Multiple: self-employed, employed, student, mother, volunteer, Free-flyer

      In reply to Ben Heard

      Questioning an issue does not automatically mean you have to have an answer - answers can be diverse, come from a number of disciplines or more often be interdisciplinary. By bringing light and larger understanding to an issue, many more than the author can contribute to responses. 'Realistic' is a value - what's realistic in one setting (ie max solar efficiency) is not realistic in another (say: antarctica which has lots of wind available instead). Alternatives are varied and local and responses to poverty or climate change are too. There is no one solution to any problem, but multiple possibilities already exist - they just take investment and effort to implement.
      Nuclear power and uranium mining are the cause of many environmental impacts and the cost of the power is 'unrealistic' as the producers are not insured against their considerable risks, something every renewable energy producer has to factor into their costs.

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    9. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Thanks for the clarification Michael.

      "the engineering problems in making a reliable nuclear power station are daunting."

      I'm a little surprised to hear you say that. Naturally they have complexities but nuclear power stations run at and above 90% capacity factor. They are utterly reliable.

      In engineering terms, wind and solar may well be simpler, but it stops looking so simple when you try to generate the equivalent quantity of energy, let alone with the dispatchability required to replace fossil fuels.

      I'm launching a report on December 5 to directly compare two reference solutions, one nuclear, one hybrid renewable, against 13 criteria for the task of replacing coal power in South Australia. Perhaps you can make it to Adelaide?
      http://decarbonisesa.com/2012/10/31/zero-carbon-options-support-the-report/ If not, email me and I will make sure you get a copy.

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    10. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Ben Heard

      As nuclear is long term, and our first priority should be doing things NOW, I feel that discussing nuclear is usually just a distraction from short term action.

      But a few comments:

      1 - Nuclear could only be built in Australia if we got vast majority support in both federal and state parliaments. Otherwise a new government might stop the project. Is such political support likely in Australia?

      2 - Advanced technology requires excellent engineering, management, and government. I have no doubt that Australian engineers would be up to the task. But in my view Australian management and government have a proven track record of often being totally incompetent. IT projects provide many great examples.

      I would be happy to live near a Swedish nuclear plant, but I wouldn't trust anything in Australia.

      So, in my opinion, there is little point in promoting nuclear for Australia.

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    11. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      A distinction without a difference given that nuclear energy's share of global energy production has been falling.

      I think it's necessary to call that a failure to displace.

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    12. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      "Questioning an issue does not automatically mean you have to have an answer " I could not agree more, and I thank the author for the brave article. It was not intended as a criticism of him, but rather a furthering of the discussion.

      Regarding "realistic": It would appear that coal is "realistic" everywhere in the world. So too therefore is nuclear, as they deliver exactly the same service; it's just that one has GHG and other pollution and the other does not.

      "Nuclear power and uranium mining…

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    13. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      "Solar/wind power is just so much simpler; but we need a solution for baseload power."

      Solar/wind also have wide community support which should be the very essence of a starting point. Costs are falling.

      "Baseload" is part of the problem - the fact that we can't think outside that expensive 100-year-old box.

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    14. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Um... that does not make sense.

      The decline in share is regrettable, but it also continues to grow in absolute terms, doing the job of displacing fossil fuels.

      From a 2006 report to the Australian parliament:

      "Worldwide, nuclear power plants currently save some 10 per cent of total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from world energy use. This represents an immense saving of greenhouse gas emissions that would otherwise be contributing to global warming. If the world were not using nuclear power, emissions of CO2 would be some 2.5 billion tonnes higher per year."

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    15. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Ben Heard

      A nuclear power plant cannot run without the government taking responsibility for incidents with bigger claims than their insurance will cover.

      I've heard it said that a nuclear power plant uses so much concrete that it needs to run for a few years before it becomes less damaging to the climate than coal. Is this true?

      And before we get to carried away by nuclear, how about replacing another 20% of Australia's power emissions with green sources that are doable today. And by the time that is done green technology will have advanced and the next 20% might be even more cost effective.

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    16. Michael Ashley

      Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Ben Heard

      Yes, well I've just taught a course on environmental engineering and probably spent at bit too much time looking into the various nuclear power accidents: SL-1, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukishima. Of course, the death rate per watt-hour is very low for nuclear, perhaps 1000 times less that coal. But then the indirect consequences (e.g., the social dislocation caused by the Fukishima evacuations) can be considerable. The costs of decommissioning nuclear power plants is also a worry.

      It would be ideal if engineers could design a nuclear power station along similar principles to the very successful Boeing 747 aircraft: i.e., basically one design, mass produced, with thousands of people worldwide with the expertise to operate/service it, and with rigorous safety & inspection standards.

      Fusion reactors appear to have serious issues with engineering challenges. Both ITER and NIF are struggling somewhat.

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    17. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Hi Michael,

      Is it likely? Well it would call on people to start talking about it with clear and relevant information. I'm launching a report to do just that on Dec 5 http://decarbonisesa.com/2012/10/31/zero-carbon-options-support-the-report/

      Otherwise you appear to be concerned about operational safety. It is the safest major power source in the world, accounting for every operational year of every plant ever built.
      http://www.idrc.info/userfiles/image/presentations2008/Burgherr_Peter_Comparative_Risk_Assessment_of_Severe_Accidents_in_the_Energy_Sector.pdf

      Plants built today are orders of magnitude safer again.

      Little point therefore? Well, only assuming you are comfortable with the status quo. Since you read this excellent article, I have to assume you are not.

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    18. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Baseload power is just the name for power which is very slow to turn up or turn down.

      What we need is an overall energy solution which provides the power we need when we want this.
      Theoretically this could be done without any baseload power.

      Note that baseload is also a problem - the whole idea of off-peak power was to try to change demand so that the peaks were lower and the power was used late at night.

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    19. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Ben Heard

      And if the world had implemented greater energy efficiencies and built more renewable power by now then we would also have significantly lower emissions.

      A decline in nuclear power use is only regrettable if nuclear is shown to be an essential part of reducing emissions. That is a very open question.

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    20. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      "A nuclear power plant cannot run without the government taking responsibility for incidents with bigger claims than their insurance will cover."

      In absolutely every aspect of industrial and economic activity, Government's are occasionally faced with being the insurer of last resort. The US and EU banking sectors are the most pertinent examples.

      Every energy source needs to be assessed for it's lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions. In doing so, nuclear power lands in the same range as solar, wind, and other renewables. The exact time for the energy return on energy invested, I am not sure. Please refer to this study from the University of Sydney, table on page 8

      I would LOVE to see the rest of Australia achieve, for example, the wind penetration that has very quickly been achieved in SA to great effect in cutting emissions. Could not agree more. While that happens, we can ready ourselves for nuclear or further renewables.

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    21. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Michael, interesting work, but of course there are risks in looking to the exceptions and not the rule. Good to see you are familiar with the comparative fatality figures. I teach at Uni Adelaide, and we cover climate change and energy material quite a bit too.

      Decommissioning is, I believe, a relatively small amount when built into the LCOE. It does take time, one reason being it is just better to leave them be for a little while until the radioactivity in the inside has fallen off.

      As to…

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    22. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      "And if the world had implemented greater energy efficiencies and built more renewable power by now then we would also have significantly lower emissions."

      Heck yes.

      "That is a very open question."

      Not to me. And not to all these people. http://decarbonisesa.com/who-gets-it/

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    23. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      ""Baseload" is part of the problem"

      Phew. I will let my friends in geothermal and solar thermal with storage know that they can down tools.

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    24. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Ben Heard

      The problem with baseload is that many think that a constant power source is a necessary part of any solution - so if coal goes then this has to be replaced with something like nuclear.

      I doubt that Zvyozdochka has any issues with geothermal or solar thermal.

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    25. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Michael, my point is this: if baseload is not necessary, then neither are those two technologies, so why would be be trying to development them? You are right, Zvyozdochka does not have a problem with those technologies. He has an ideological opposition to nuclear power, at which he will thrown any and all arguments to hand.

      Baseload is simply a descriptive term for a portion of the electricity demand profile in a developed economy, it is not good nor evil, but some technologies are well suited to providing it, others are not. The key characteristics being constantly available and dispatchable supply.

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    26. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      Maybe you missed the recent discussion on "Gold Plating" Ben?

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    27. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Ben Heard

      I'm surprised that this discussion has not (yet) been joined by the climate change deniers.

      But perhaps it is equally distracting that this discussion has turned into a debate about nuclear power.

      Whether or not Australia should go nuclear is a very open question. You seem ideologically in favour of nuclear, and don't accept that there are good reasons why Australia will (in my opinion) never go fission nuclear.

      If the main reason to go nuclear is to reduce emissions, and the public are…

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    28. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      "Zvyozdochka does not have a problem with those technologies. He has an ideological opposition to nuclear power, at which he will thrown any and all arguments to hand."

      Errr, no I have a problem with the distraction from the achievable and a problem with the cost. Renewables are pressing hard into coal already. Germany and Japan (will be) showing what's possible. Australians are consistent when asked that they support renewables.

      I'm not aware that I have ever made a comment on plant safety…

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    29. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Generally I associate that term with actions being justified in relation to peak demand.

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    30. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      "You seem ideologically in favour of nuclear"

      Let me pull you up right there. For many many years I was ideologically opposed to nuclear, which I knew nothing about, until such time as I realised climate change couldn't be addressed by renewables and energy efficiency alone (both of which are a large part of my day job). I then stopped and researched and thought hard for a couple of years before coming out in favour, for reasons I have articulated very clearly in many formats.

      Here you will…

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    31. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Ben Heard

      You say that climate change can't be addressed by renewables and energy efficiency alone.

      That is certainly true in the short term. But you are wrong in the long term. If we wanted we could provide 1005 of our electricity using wind and thermal solar. Adding other technologies just makes the task much easier.

      Perhaps you include cost in your statement.

      Perhaps nuclear would be a more cost effective way of providing power than 100% renewable, but even that is up for debate.

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    32. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      The trauma of the Fukushima evacuations wasn't due to anything to do with the plant failures. There have been no measured levels of radiation outside the plant that put people at anything close to the cancer risks associated with, for example, Australian red meat consumption or other common cancer causes. The evacuation is due to a climate of fear due to the serial mendacity of anti-nuclear activists over the last few decades. How many of the 14 million cancers in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus over the past 25 years were due to Chernobyl radiation? Perhaps 6,000 with very few deaths. Had these countries had Aussie cancer rates they'd have had about 6 million ADDITIONAL cancers.

      P.S. Japan's bowel cancer incidence rose from about 20,000 new cases per year in the 70s, before the impacts of their western dietary shift kicked in, to about 101,000 new cases per year today.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17059355

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    33. Jani-Petri Martikainen

      Senior Research Associate

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      You might want to spend a moment looking at this graph. It shows what has been achieved historically in few european countries with respect to decarbonizing their electricity supplies.
      http://jmkorhonen.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/clean_electricity_re-hydro-nuclear_non-hydro_re.png
      I am not aware of any example where renewables based strategies would have resulted in decarbonization rates that France and Sweden demonstrated decades ago. Also, look what has happened in Germany. They were making rapid progress in decarbonization in the 70s and 80s, but when they stopped building NPP:s (2nd half of 80s) the trend became distinctly slower. If someone can show me a country decarbonizing at rates several %/year (this is what is needed...about 3%/year as far as I can remember) without nuclear power being strongly involved, I would love to have a look.

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    34. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Michael, that is not correct.
      Baseload does not describe a power type. Baseload is a descriptive term for the quantity of power that needs to be delivered at and around the point of minimum power demand of a network at any time. A “baseload power station” is just describing a station that is suitable for doing that job. Fast or slow to turn up or down is not the important part. Being available nearly all the time is the important part.

      If “baseload is a problem” then turn off your fridge, ask the supermarket to turn off their's, ask the networks to turn off the streetlights, do not socialise or work overnight, and make sure you do not need a hospital at 3 am.

      Baseload is not good or bad, it just is, same as intermediate and peak load. That’s why people place importance on it. http://sen.asn.au/images/pages/renewable_energy/baseload.png

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    35. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      "That is certainly true in the short term."

      I have just finished teaching a unit called "Climate Change Past Present and Future", following up on "Thinking critically about global warming" so allow me to drive home this point: Time is NOT on our side, we are NOT in a position to be picky on technologies for arbitrary reasons, ill-founded biases and misunderstandings of how our energy system works (these latter points are not intended to be directed at you per se).

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    36. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Ben Heard

      I'm always amazed at how those who promote either the need for coal or nuclear think that those of us who disagree with those power sources should turn our fridges off, etc, etc.

      Everyone promoting more renewable, and even an eventual zero-emissions scheme, is talking about providing power when it is needed.

      Many years ago the baseload power from coal was a problem because as most of our power came from coal there was too much power late at night. This is the only 'problem' that has been raised about baseload.

      Where the old school people get it wrong is that they assume that the baseload in your graphs needs to be provided by some always on power source. There is no reason why most of the power cannot be provided by one technology at one time and a different technology at a different time.

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    37. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      I think Michael was referring to baseload in a more broad concept.

      One where we have expensive, inflexible, single fuel assets on top of which we suppliment other generation supply.

      It makes the task of changing the design of supply harder when point-of-use solar might be attractive (and viable) for example.

      Another way to look at the problem is to add up all your sources moment by moment and match that to demand. This is the approach taken by NREL/Sanford Labs http://www.nrel.gov/analysis/re_futures/

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    38. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Michael,

      It seems you now do advocate the need for baseload. Ok then.

      "There is no reason why most of the power cannot be provided by one technology at one time and a different technology at a different time." You are quite correct. Well nearly. There is one reason.

      To achieve this and actually deliver the same reliability would be phenomenally, phenomenally expensive, requiring massive amounts of some mix of generation overbuild, network reinforcement and energy storage because we would…

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    39. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Re climate impacts of concrete for nuclear, whatever they are (and I'd be very surprised if they're that much more than coal), I understand you can multiply them by a factor of over five for wind, per kWh produced.

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    40. Michael Ashley

      Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      "I'm surprised that this discussion has not (yet) been joined by the climate change deniers."

      Me too. We have had 125 comments over 14 hours and all of them have been interesting and relevant. This must be a record for any article related to climate change. Well done everyone!

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    41. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      Tell him the bit about quadrupuling the wholesale cost of electricity and the need to continue with gas peakers anyway (unless one wanted push the wholesale cost even further with additional low-CF NPPs).

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    42. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      "wide community support which should be the very essence of a starting point"

      Er, no, at least not until such as time as laws of physics are determined democratically.

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    43. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      What laws of physics are being "undemocratically" broken in South Australia?

      This is the problem with the nuclear boosters; you so desperately want renewables to fail.

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    44. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      My point was that the 'starting point' should be effectiveness, not populism.

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    45. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      I was anti-nuclear and pro-renewable until a few years back when I was forced to reconsider my position and realised it was based on a crock of misinformation about cancer and radiation risks. Then when I realised how safe nuclear was, I was in favour of both. But now we've had a decade to see just how bad renewables are. We've seen 1989 predictions of solar pv replacing coal in 10 to 15 years fail catastrophically. But we know from the 70s that nuclear can be rolled out incredibly quickly ... most countries in Europe + the US rolled out huge capacity of 24x7 energy very quickly. In the past decade, nobody using renewables has come close to matching this speed of roll out. The devil has been in the details ... but is more accurately characterised as cool toys Vs real engineering.

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    46. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Geoff Russell

      Nuclear needs to be supported by both Liberal and Labor, state and federal, before it is feasible. Without such support a change in government would be likely to end any nuclear program.

      Given the current political situation I cannot image how things could change enough for this political consensus to occur. Nuclear is controversial amongst those who want real action on climate change. Neither Labor nor Liberal are seriously tackling climate change, and even something as insignificant as the carbon tax had significant public opposition.

      So even if i become convinced that nuclear was the best option for Australia, I would still say that discussing nuclear is only a distraction from talking about what might one day, if we are lucky, actually happen.

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    47. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Michael,

      My experience of the type of "leadership" in Australian politics is that most often it is the type that tries to see where everyone is heading, and then runs out in front. There are some exceptions.

      Our politicians need to get the message that it is ok to talk about this and they will.

      Sitting back and waiting for the politicians misunderstands the situation. If you "become convinced that nuclear was the best option for Australia", talk about it and let your politicians know that you are doing so.

      For example, I have moved about 50 tickets for the report launch in only three days. The politicians will all be invited. If they see that people are open to consider it, then policies may change.

      This is a good read about idea, written by the independent moderator of a previous event I organised http://www.beckyhirstconsulting.com.au/offline/dont-be-afraid-i-dare-you-to-start-the-conversation/

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    48. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Ben Heard

      The problem is that there are many passionate and active proponents for real action on climate change who (like me) think that any talk of nuclear is a distraction.

      For example, debating nuclear in this thread is a distraction from discussing whether or not we should stop exporting coal. Deciding to start phasing out coal exports would have the immediate short term impact of stopping the huge expansion of coal mining in Queensland.

      In less time than it would take to decide which state would…

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    49. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      "There is no reason why most of the power cannot be provided by one technology at one time and a different technology at a different time. "

      Precisely.

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    50. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      This is the point Michael.

      Research (Lewandowski etc) shows that support for renewables is strong across political lines and even with deniers. It's something that can be moved forward. It's the very basis to work on for pushing ahead with carbon reduction policy.

      If you ask a denier; regardless of the truth or otherwise of man-made global warming do you support renewable energy sources? The answer is ~65% yes which is actually pretty unusual.

      Comparable studies of support for nuclear power…

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    51. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Distraction about the issue of phasing out coal?

      As I see it, that's a point we can quickly agree on. My point is, what next? We don't dig it and sell it because people like to eat it, it's for energy. So, what is an effective substitute? The most effective substitute for fossil fuels, globally, has been hydro power and nuclear power. Nuclear power is an effective substitute because it provides exactly the service that is being sought from fossil fuels, without the pollution (GHG and other).

      The world will not move away from coal unless it has something else to move towards. I don't believe supporting nuclear makes us less able to support other effective action. If anything, it would get the attention of a lot of the body politic and business community that our priority actually is emissions reduction after all.

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    52. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Ben Heard

      Let's first tackle the much easier question of whether or not to phase out coal exports.

      Now that many of us have agreed this should happen, you say we should move on to consider what we should do next.

      This is ignoring the hardest problem. The most important problem. The only problem that matters.

      That is how do we get the state and federal governments to actually phase out coal and to immediately put end to the expansion of the industry?

      To me it is obvious that getting state and federal…

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    53. Ian Rose

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      Your advocacy of nuclear is horribly blinkered & misinformed "1) because the available technologies cannot deliver the quantity of energy required, reliably 2) because climate change is an emergency so we don't have time for point 1) to change and 3) once... "
      How about you have a look at what IS being built right now & what CAN be done using renewables only, start with www.desertec.org a $500billion investment that will have most of Western Europe powered by North African sun.
      Solar Thermal…

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    54. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to Ian Rose

      "climate change is an emergency so we don't have time"

      Unfortunately that doesn't stop the Chinese from building new coal-burning power stations. If they've got time to build coal-burning power stations then they've got time to build nuclear power stations. Every time the Chinese decide to build another coal-burning power station instead of a nuclear power station, a huge opportunity to reduce future CO2 emissions has been lost.

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    55. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Anyone who accepts the science will agree that it is not good that China is building new coal stations.

      But China are doing more than most to increase the energy efficiency of their economy and to build renewable.

      And why jump to the conclusion that the alternative to China building a coal station is to build a nuclear plant? Other alternatives include further energy efficiency and renewables.

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    56. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      I was just rebutting the argument that we (i.e. the Chinese or anyone who is likely to build nuclear power stations) don't have time to build nuclear power stations. They don't have to build them of course.

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    57. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      You've done a power of work commenting here and you've hit on the most important question which I think you can see is completely and utterly missed.

      As the late great Matthew Simmons said "the most effective carbon capture or abatement is to leave it in the ground".

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  4. John Newlands

    tree changer

    This goes beyond hypocrisy. Like a heroin dealer teaching Sunday School it's disgusting. To use the latest term we want to save a pissweak 5% of year 2000 emissions by 2020. That's 27 Mt virtually nothing compared to 700+ Mt emissions from exported fuels. Why even bother with the domestic carbon tax?

    If we had carbon tariffs on finished good then coal exports would be a two edged sword. China and India would get the cheap energy just their products would be harder to sell. The carbon tariff also solves the problem of switching to other suppliers of coal such as Africa. The argument China and India need our coal to succeed seems like blackmail and colonialism. Why can't they power their economies with low carbon energy?

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  5. Zvyozdochka

    logged in via Twitter

    I hate to be so blatant about it, but The Greens have had this position since their inception.

    In fact they go further; what are we going to do when we can't dig stuff up and export it?

    The Liblabs are asleep at the wheel when it comes to a future economy for Australia.

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  6. Philip Harrington

    Principal Consultant - Climate Change

    Well said! It highlights better than anything else the fact that the current government has paid lip service to the issue of climate change, at the same time as dancing around collecting plaudits on a very uncritical world stage. I fear that that tells you more about the even greater lack of progress in some other countries than it does about the apparent, but illusory, progress in Australia.

    Of course, it's not just coal. The Browse LNG project in WA on its own is expected to emit 39 MILLION…

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  7. Bernie Masters

    environmental consultant at FIA Technology Pty Ltd, B K Masters and Associates

    So, if Australia sells a tonne of iron ore to a nice peaceful and happy country like Sweden and the importer turns this raw material into bullets that are then used by a mass murderer to kill lots of people, then somehow Australia should foresee this outcome, accept responsibility and refuse to sell the iron ore? Sorry but this is a fanciful and totally unrealistic article playing on emotions and lacking any understanding of the world as it actually exists.

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    1. Michael Ashley

      Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      The difference Bernie is that the side-effect of burning coal is not an outcome that is unforeseeable. In fact, it is obvious.

      Australian coal exports are directly contributing - very significantly - to the destruction of the ecosystem upon which we all depend.

      Everyone involved in the coal industry must accept their responsibility for this. The cost of undoing the damage caused by burning a tonne of coal far exceeds the cost of the coal. Every tonne of coal that we dig up is putting a burden on future generations, all for the sake of short-term profits.

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    2. Bernie Masters

      environmental consultant at FIA Technology Pty Ltd, B K Masters and Associates

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Michael, thanks for the comment but the countries we sell our coal to have every opportunity to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere and negate the GHG implications arising from the burning of Australian coal. So the question is why should Australia become the world's conscience on the issue of selling CO2-producing coal for export? There is much more coal mined and burnt in China than is imported from Australia so a unilateral decision by us to stop our coal exports will have perverse and negative…

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    3. bill parker

      editor

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      The paradox for me is that I agree with Bernie (to some extent) and with the author.

      Since the coal industry in Australia predominantly foreign owned, we are not talking about individuals involved in the coal industry but shareholders in corporations elsewhere. There is a complete disconnect between a commodity trading on the NYSE say and the opinions of people living in the Hunter Valley for example.

      The answer, which is in progress, is to change the fuel that powers the electricity generating…

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    4. Michael Ashley

      Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Bernie, sequestering CO2 from coal-fired power stations is unproven at scale, and I suspect that it is unlikely to ever be implemented since it will be more economical to simply close down the power stations.

      I don't buy the argument that if we stop exporting coal, people will buy it from elsewhere, therefore we shouldn't stop exporting. While that might be true in the short term, if Australia did stop exporting, the price of coal will go up, leading to less incentives to use it. The countries that export coal will soon find themselves international pariahs, with trade sanctions etc.

      But the main issue is that we have to find ways of dealing with poverty AND stopping coal. This doesn't have to be an either/or decision.

      You can talk about "understanding of the world as it actually exists", as you did in your first post, but physics trumps all political/ethical considerations. Burning coal is a sure way to environmental catastrophe where we all lose.

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  8. Ben Heard

    Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

    Peter, I wholeheartedly agree.

    This energy flow diagram for the Australian economy from ABARE says it all

    http://etool.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/energy-flows.jpg

    The domestic coal is dwarfed by the export coal. It also highlights the stunning hypocrisy of our uranium exports for zero-carbon energy elsewhere, the other massive piece of energy export, while prohibiting it in Australia. Clearly we can be a global energy exporter and a climate champion at the same time, its just a question of which mineral we dig up and sell.

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    1. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      "we can be a global energy exporter and a climate champion at the same time"

      Sure, and digging things up will end. If you want your "waste eating" IFR/GEN4s, then no-one will need new sources of uranium for hundreds of years (big IF of course). Seems like a stupid industry to invest in.

      It's already uneconomic. Even BHP can't find a way to expand an existing facility and turn a dollar. It's highly unlikely WA or QLD can create a viable industry, the Indian's certainly aren't prepared to pay top dollar for the product.

      However, we could export power from our deserts to Asia - with some vision it could be an industry that continues for centuries.

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    2. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Actually, all existing and new plants of existing generation technology will require fuel until their end of life. So the mining industry will not stop on a dime. But yes, with Gen IV IFR technology, over decades the need for uranium mining will keep increasing as new Gen III plants are built, then slow and then stop as the Gen IV becomes the preference. I regard that as good news. Better news in the short term would be to stop the coal mines in place of uranium. Have you seen a coal mine lately…

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    3. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      "they (Toro) are in a better position to tell than you"

      Their numbers don't work. They don't have the water either. They'll make a final investment decision next year or the one after that.

      You should probably declare you accepted money from them to come to WA.

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    4. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Oh goody, another logical reason to promote my writing http://decarbonisesa.com/2011/09/28/a-debate-we-have-to-have-the-wrap-up-of-ceda-in-perth/

      I made it to this event as an invited speaker by CEDA thanks to the largesse of Toro who picked up the flights and accommodation that CEDA would not cover. I walked away with a USB keyring. I did not "accept money" from them.

      So. Your turn. I'm self-employed http://www.thinkclimateconsulting.com.au/ and a lecturer with Adelaide Univerisity.

      Would you like to declare who you are? Who you work for? What the organisation's focus area is? Which energy technologies and solutions in particular feather the nest of your company? You sent this all to me in an email once in a fit of uncharacteristic transparency after we mutually agreed that you had outstayed any welcome at my blog. I kept it. Shall I do the honours since you have indicated a preference for mudslinging over Socratic discussion today?

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    5. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      Since you know, you can go on our website and look at our client list.

      You'll find, that in many respects I am in deep conflict with those clients.

      Oh, and you met me at the Adelaide Paydirt conference a few months ago. That'll do your head in.

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    6. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      "That'll do your head in."

      You have a misunderstanding of your importance to me, but to be clear: I am having my motives impugned and my unreleased work criticised by a dog with a pseudonym who lacks the courtesy to fully introduce himself on the occasion we meet. Mmmm. Don't think I will lose sleep.

      "Since you know, you can go on our website and look at our client list."

      Perhaps the rest of The Conversation deserves to decide for themselves?

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    7. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      I listened/watched your presentation courteously and came up and thanked you for it.

      Our team came away with the same impression - you're a good communicator of a distraction.

      We await your numbers. http://pozible.com/zerocarbonoptions

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    8. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      As we will await your anonymous sniping.

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  9. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    Thanks, Dr Christoff, for a well-argued essay that makes a good case for restriction of supply into the global market.

    With respect, however, my view is that it is based on an assumption that supply restriction is an effective mechanism for curbing harmful uses. The US's experiments in Prohibition, its "War on Drugs" and monetarism all show that supply restrictions are of little benefit.

    Prof Garnaut made essentially this point in a speech to the Melbourne Institute; the following is quoted…

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  10. Meeuwis Boelen

    Manager Higher Education

    A timely and accessible article. I am no economist but felt there was a major flaw in exporting coal (or gas or even uranium). However, an added cost on the export would provide Australia with additional income but it is the importing country that needs to mitigate the polution they generate. In addition, if we export to a dirty power station we would have to tax more than if we export to country that deploys less-poluting power stations. So I am inclined to charge when the manufactured goods enter our country, based on the embedded emissions -- that way China's manafacturing needs to address emissions if they want to remain competitive and our manufacturing may even become competitive again. Of course, we would lose on coal export but that is an irresponsible practice anyway. Altogether a great article demonstrating that global perspectives are the ones that count -- such perspective exposes countries shirking their responsibility by shifting the problem.

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  11. Charles Driver

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    But won't a system based on 'potential emissions somewhere down the line' - rather than 'actual emissions' - either create problems for determining where the emissions should be said to occur, or double / triple count the emissions, inequitably disincentivising certain activities? Further, if the use of raw materials varies it's emissions output, how do you then appropriately charge for it in a 'potential' context? appropriate incentives in the countries where the products are exported seem pretty clearly to be an 'ideal' mechanism - higher prices for coal usage in China will also hurt Australian coal export. Creating a mess of a system may be necessary if importing countries have no such system for 'actual emissions' themselves, but if they do appropriately disincentivise coal use, how does Australia unfairly benefit?

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  12. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

    I agree on the actions proposed in the article - but politically this article IS the problem.

    In a dictatorship the way to get change is to lobby the dictator to change their mind.

    In a democracy the way to get change is to vote for the party who supports what you want.

    Asking Labor to properly act on climate change and to stop coal exports is like asking the Liberals to add a wealth tax, tax family trusts, and to add an inheritance tax. Sorry, but if you want any of these things don't vote…

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      46 comments so far, and only Zvyozdochka and myself have mentioned the politics of this issue.

      What chance of changing things have we got when those who support the change do no more than wishing Labor and Liberal will do as they wish?

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    2. Tom Keen

      PhD Candidate; Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      But is the problem purely political? I'd argue it is just as much social and technological as it is political. The problem with bringing politics into these conversations is that you risk alienating people and limiting the discussion to a select range of people. That's ultimately self-defeating if your aim is to bring about political or social change.

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    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Tom Keen

      No the problem and what needs to be done is well articulated in the above article.

      It is the solution which is political.

      I don't agree that discussing the political aspect alienates people. As the discussion on The Conversation show, those who disagree with the point of view of the article are well represented.

      It is pretending that change will happen without politics which is self-defeating.

      By all means try to get the major parties to change their policies. But if at the last election you voted Labor or Liberal you have helped give parliament a mandate to work hard to expand our coal exports.

      People have to accept that they have responsibility, and that you get what you vote for irrespective of what you support on The Conversation.

      Australia is going to continue to export coal, and the reason why is that most of the people who want this to stop vote for politicians who have a policy of expanding our coal exports.

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    4. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Tom Keen

      Further, if you think of how social change happens, it is usually by enough people voting for a party who support the change so that they get into power, and the change is implemented by this party even though maybe 45% of the population are still opposed.

      For many changes the 45% who opposed the change find that the world doesn't end, and when the party that originally opposed the change finally regain power the change remains.

      Only in Australia many of our intellectuals have the idea that change will happen by supporting the parties that oppose the change.

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    5. Tom Keen

      PhD Candidate; Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Yet I'm sure there are more than a few people who would have read your comments and said, "The Greens? They're just another part of the capitalist system that makes climate change an insurmountable problem!" or something to that extent.

      There are numerous political views on "how to solve the climate crisis" - some of which are out of genuine concern for the problem, some of which use the problem to advance a political agenda. The problem is that there is no cohesive movement of people in any…

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    6. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Tom Keen

      No political party is going to perfectly match any voter. So each voter will weight up what is on offer differently.

      My point is that change requires political action, and voting for a party who promises the opposite of what you want is pretty silly.

      I'm not sure what your post says about any of this. I'm not aware of any party which is wanting to ban beef, stop all cars, etc etc. No-one is saying that further technology changes are not needed.

      Certainly social change is needed for enough…

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    7. Tom Keen

      PhD Candidate; Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      But doing "the right thing" is entirely subjective. Personally I think that the Greens' refusal to allow *all* low-carbon energy technologies to compete to replace fossil fuels is a monumental obstacle to overcoming Australia's contribution to climate change, regardless of whether they want to stop our coal exports. I don't think there is any party in Australia doing the right thing in response to climate change, which is precisely why I'm more interested in what can be achieved through technology and social change that is separate from politics.

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    8. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Tom Keen

      Well nothing is going to be achieved through technology change unless the politics and business make it happen.

      Clearly the Greens policies on climate change are far superior to the major parties for those who accept the science. If action on climate change is someone's major concern, then not voting Green above Liberal or Labor makes no sense.

      I'm not sure which "low-carbon energy technology" you are upset that the Greens don't support. If it is nuclear then the reality is that neither Labor…

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    9. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      MWH

      If you have trouble believing in either the LNP or Labs ever halting the export of coal - until demand stops that is.

      What say you regarding uranium?

      Meanwhile sustainable alternatives remain much neglected, in spite of there being current micro action we can take now:

      elt.ee-oz.com.au/files/TP...UEE07/.../2.20_Sustainenergy_enviro.pdf

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    10. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Uranium mining is yet another area where Labor today are no different from the past views of the Liberals.

      From watching the 7pm ABC TV news every evening I know that there is some opposition to Australia selling uranium to India. The ABC reported that there are environmentalists in India who oppose this.

      I don't recall any mention in the last year of the ABC TV News mentioning any opposition within Australia. When balanced coverage means reporting Labor and Liberal the ABC News is sometimes little different from what would happen if a dictator had a censor in the newsroom.

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  13. Ben Heard

    Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

    To realistically stop exporting coal, a zero-carbon alternative must be promoted. I will be doing exactly that with the launch of the report "Zero Carbon Options" on December 5. Saying "no" to something is only ever half the battle. What do we say "yes" to?
    http://pozible.com/zerocarbonoptions

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    1. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      It's a public event. But then, some of us prefer to hide our opinions behind anonymity.

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    2. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      Sure, I told you who I work for previously. See it's the money/finance side of the equation you can't reconcile Ben.

      Nuclear numbers aren't getting any better and it's a complete distraction from the politically possible and entirely workable progress in renewables.

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    3. Tom Keen

      PhD Candidate; Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Zvyozdochka,

      Have you read the recent Australian Energy Technology Assessment (AETA) report? http://www.bree.gov.au/publications/aeta.html This report found that nuclear energy is currently the least-cost low-carbon option for Australia. Through to 2050 it is about on par with (but slightly more expensive than) solar PV and onshore wind. These technologies all fill different niches anyway, and in my opinion should all be included in a rational mix of low-carbon technologies.

      Do you accept the cost findings of this report? If not, why not?

      Of course, there are external costs which aren't dealt with in the AETA report. But these costs have been quantified extensively in the various ExternE reports. Nuclear, wind and solar PV all have very low, roughly equivalent external costs. http://www.externe.info/externe_d7/

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    4. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Tom Keen

      Yes I have read it. It's the equivalent of a dissertation on unicorns (NPPs/CCS). It doesn't exist as a widely supportable option. For Australia they might as just as well have given fusion energy costs too.

      In contrast to the wishing and pleading of the fossil-nuke boosters, we have a working example in SA of renewables doing the required job very effectively, pushing down the wholesale cost and reducing emissions from electricity.

      If only we could crack on with it rather than being distracted by the impossible, in all segments of emission not just electricity.

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    5. Tom Keen

      PhD Candidate; Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      That's an out-of-hand dismissal. Surely you can do better than that? Comparing NPPs (a mature suite of technologies) with CCS is a false analogy too. The report doesn't include cost projections for CCS until 2030, in which case it is still prohibitively expensive even *if* it can overcome the massive technical barriers to large-scale deployment.

      I'm unaware of a proposal for a close-to-zero cattle policy by any political party in Australia, yet methane emissions are Australia's largest contributor to climate change. That would seem impossible, but we have to "crack on with it".

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    6. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Tom Keen

      I'm aware that more than twenty years ago a study was made of the effectiveness of eliminating wild camels, horses, rabbits and goats on Australia's methane/CO2-sink destruction.

      Five years ago we proposed compulsory low-interest finance for domestic solar PV be introduced for new housing build and at time of resale.

      Ten years ago we proposed solar hot water be mandatory for new housing and at time of resale.

      Fifteen years ago we proposed tighter energy efficiency standards for buildings…

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    7. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Zvy: Renewables are not doing the job very effectively ... unless by "the job" you mean enriching the wealthy and putting off substantive action. Our current per capita emissions in SA are 18.75 t-CO2eq/yr. http://bit.ly/SjDT1M
      Wikipedia has France at around 9 t-CO2eq/yr and she has been there for a couple of decades. Had the US gone down the French path instead of listening to the lies of the anti-nuclear movement, the planet would be very different. We have effectively lost a couple of decades to respond properly to climate change thanks to the anti-nuclear movement. But still you won't be content until the planet is well and truly fried. The planet might burn, but the flames will be nuclear free!

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    8. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Who the hell wants to be where Germany is? What an admission of failure. The Germans are at 25% of electricity from renewables and building more coal plants as they struggle to meet 35% by 2020. Meanwhile South Korea is at 33% nuclear and will hit 50% by 2020.
      We don't need cool solar toys on house rooves, we need 24x7 power to replace ALL fossil fuels, including charging electric vehicles built in factories run with clean energy recycling the old vehicles with clean energy. We need zero cattle and we need to roll back about 70 million hectares of deforestation.

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    9. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Then please, come along, introduce yourself to the audience, identify yourself as the owner of this identity and ask a well formed question. I'm very happy to stand by my work and my opinions. You?

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    10. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Geoff Russell

      Why would you link to a 2010 report that can't/doesn't include the effective switch-off of Playford and Northern?

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    11. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Geoff Russell

      "we need 24x7 power to replace ALL fossil fuels"

      What ever we do is a transition, so an NPP has to produce and sell into an existing low-priced wholesale market. You can't make the numbers work or as Peter Lang admitted raise the average wholesale price of electricity 4 times? Like the new UK nuclear needs to go ahead?

      It's political suicide and that's the whole fricken' point.

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    12. Tom Keen

      PhD Candidate; Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      And what makes you think any other technology can do the job at a lower-cost? The AETA report suggests it is among the most cost-effective low-carbon options. If it's really far too expensive as you claim, surely it wouldn't matter if we removed laws prohibiting it in Australia because none would be built anyway? Why not simply let it compete and see what happens?

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    13. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      That seems to be a highly selective argument that adequate response to climate change cannot put any upward pressure on electricity prices, provided the source of that pressure is nuclear. Anything else, no worries.

      As we show in the report, as is shown practically everywhere, nuclear is more expensive than fossil but cheaper than renewable and cheaper than CCS to do the same job.

      Just unbelievable. Luxuriating in the evil of coal, while rejecting the logical alternative.

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    14. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      Germany is not building "20 more coal plants".

      http://k.lenz.name/LB/?p=7564

      The one completed was commissioned before the nuclear shutdown and older plants are now idle, again an effective reduction in CO2 emissions.

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    15. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Tom Keen

      "And what makes you think any other technology can do the job at a lower-cost?"

      SA pushing down the wholesale price of electricity and reducing CO2 emissions and effectively switching off two (old) coal plants. It's horribly inconvenient.

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    16. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      "Luxuriating in the evil of coal, while rejecting the logical alternative."

      No, no; I'm pragmatic about the political possibilities and wanting to get on with an acceptable alternative that just happens to actually work as well (diverse renewables in transition).

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    17. Tom Keen

      PhD Candidate; Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Diverse renewables transition? Well we know that wind energy reduces emissions. Solar PV is still too small of a contributor to really know how this is affecting fossil fuel use.

      What are the other options in this diverse profile? Concentrating solar thermal, dry-rock geothermal, wave energy, tidal energy, offshore wind... these would all fall under your "unicorn" technologies in Australia.

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    18. Tom Keen

      PhD Candidate; Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      SA's electricity sector is still more than 75% fossil fuels. We haven't even put a dent in vehicle energy emissions. And onshore wind energy being able to cost-effectively reduce emissions in the 20-30% range doesn't mean it can do the same at, say, 90 or 100%. What are the other cost-effective, demonstrated technologies that are going to assist us in decarbonising our electricity system, as well as increase capacity in the future for an electric vehicle fleet? Solar PV is currently far more expensive than nuclear (and is not reliable), while CST cost estimates now and in the future are off the charts.

      By the way, do you have a reference for SA's wholesale electricity prices dropping?

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    19. Rory McGuire

      Science commentator

      In reply to Ben Heard

      Ben, please do not let the idea get around that nuclear does not generate CO2. The mischief is often spread that nuclear produces no CO2, often smudged by saying at point of use, but this is not the case. The production of co2 in the uranium fuel cycle is highly dependent on ore grade. it is true that with the high-grade ores being mined today nuclear produces less co2 than coal or gas but as higher grade ores are consumed co2 production per unit of energy will quickly rise and will eventually exceed…

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    20. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Rory McGuire

      Rory,

      I see this a lot. Comments along the lines of "this can't be the case because of x/y/z" in the uranium fuel cycle. Usually with no supporting reference or link, as above, which seems odd for a science commentator.

      The University of Sydney, 2006, "Life-Cycle Energy Balance and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Nuclear Energy in Australia" conducted a meta review of the global literature, 40 individual studies, and then an original analysis of the full lifecycle emissions for a the hypothetical…

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    21. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Rory McGuire

      Rory,

      If one discarded 99.3 per cent of the U238 at that point, that would be all of it, and one would be left with 100% enriched U235. This is beyond the level of enrichment required for a nuclear weapon. A mere 3-5% enrichment does the trick for most reactors, or if you want to use a CANDU, natural, non-enriched uranium is ok.

      "Whether this energy comes from fossil fuels or from nuclear power is immaterial." Actually, it is very material. University of Sydney again, page 7:

      "The greenhouse gas intensity of nuclear energy depends critically on ...
      - whether electricity for enrichment is generated on-site (nuclear), or by fossil
      power plants, and
      • the overall greenhouse gas intensity (i.e. fuel mix) of the economy.

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    22. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to Rory McGuire

      Rory, you are talking about EROEI (Energy Returned over Energy Expended). Nobody bothers when EROEI is less than 1 ... for obvious reasons. You can check Wikipedia for one set of estimates.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_returned_on_energy_invested

      You will notice that the EROEI for nuclear is much higher than for
      solar photovoltaic.

      But that chart doesn't deal with fast reactors. With fast reactors (IFR being one), you could power the entire planet with the uranium output of just…

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    23. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      The wholesale price drop corresponds with oversupply from the wind, as AEMO discusses. http://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/Planning/Reports/South-Australian-Advisory-Functions/Wind-Study-Report

      It sounds nice, but like everything else with wind, it has consequences as the penetration gets higher. The other generators cannot turn a reasonable buck while the intermittent wind floods in. I'm not sorry to see the reduction in coal, but you can't pretend wind is the whole solution. Tom's on the money…

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    24. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Rory McGuire

      Rory, what you've said is highly misleading at best. Such is the stupendous energy density of uranium, even a substantial increase in energy intensity of its recovery makes little difference to that of the entire enterprise. Full lifetime, all extraction and processing considered, nuclear has a similar carbon footprint to wind and substantially less than that of solar PV.

      http://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/postpn_383-carbon-footprint-electricity-generation.pdf

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    25. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      So enhancing networks to aid the transition is ok with you? Noted.

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    26. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      So... they are replacing old coal with new coal and renewables?

      Instead of nuclear and renewables.

      Way to go Germany

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    27. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Noted, pleased to have picked up the nuance of the situation

      As before, they are replacing old coal with new coal and renewables?

      Instead of nuclear and renewables.

      This is your proposed pathway in comments on an article making the case that coal use needs to cease.

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    28. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Ben Heard

      @ Ben Heard

      "instead of nuclear and renewables."

      How about just renewables? Thus avoiding the expense of digging up uranium, building reactors but NIMBY, of course.

      Australia has a chance to go straight from fossil fuels to sustainable, clean energy without delaying progress with soon to be obsolete nuclear power.

      Yes, I checked your website and pro-nuclear stance:

      http://thinkclimateconsulting.com.au/newsletter/march2011/presentation.html

      Think decommissioning old reactors…

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    29. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      That report was published in April 2012 from the National Greenhouse Accounts. It is the most recent state-based breakdown available. The national report is available up to June this year.

      Alinta's notification to AEMO is that Northern will be returned to normal operations by 2014.

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    30. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      "How about just renewables?"

      Put as succinctly as I can, 1) because the available technologies cannot deliver the quantity of energy required, reliably 2) because climate change is an emergency so we don't have time for point 1) to change and 3) once I started looking at nuclear with an open mind, I learned that compared to fossil fuels it is an absolute godsend.

      My main writing on nuclear is housed at www.decarbonisesa.com . The website you visited is my consulting business where I offer the…

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  14. Ian Clarke

    Director, Pacific Strategy Partners

    Interesting article. A few thoughts:
    1. This is so little community support for such a policy that it is unlikely to be politically relevant any time soon
    2. If implemented, the 2nd & 3rd order economic consequences would dire:
    - Regional unemployment would rise, requiring increased welfare spending
    - The Australian tax base would shrink, so services would need to be cut
    - Academic positions in, say Astrophysics, would not be affordable ( Labor is cutting science funding in a…

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    1. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ian Clarke

      "Distributed PV solar requires more energy to make than it produces"

      Errr, can you back that up. (It's nonsense).

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    2. Ian Clarke

      Director, Pacific Strategy Partners

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Yes & No. Can't share the details, but if you take the theoretical output & discount for :
      - Not facing the sun most of the time, since most roof installations aren't at the right angle
      - Sometimes its cloudy
      - Most panels will never be cleaned
      ..a household PV solar system will never payback at any reasonable feed-in tariff. The little PV / LED garden lights are nice though ...

      Solar thermal (for hot water) is a much better option for households. Obviously, if you think about it, as the technology is simpler and there are fewer conversion losses.

      Would be nice if someone published a thorough, objective, peer reviewed analysis of all these options ...

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    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Ian Clarke

      What isn't in dispute is that government subsidies to domestic solar electricity are a very inefficient way of reducing emissions.

      Howard introduced the first subsidies just so he could give the impression that he was doing something. With the subsidies the scheme took off, and Rudd found it too expensive.

      In a breathtaking example of Labor's spin being different from reality, the Rudd government changed the rules so that domestic solar electricity was credited with much more renewable energy certificates than it produced. The result of this was that installing solar electricity meant that emission would increase!

      So when you include the regulatory environment and the politics, plus the world-class spin of Labor, installing solar did harm the environment.

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    4. Tom Keen

      PhD Candidate; Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.

      In reply to Ian Clarke

      Ian, do a quick google search for "EROEI" and "solar PV". It is a complete myth that a solar panel requires more energy to make than it produces in its lifetime.

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  15. David McInnes

    logged in via LinkedIn

    A useful and insightful reminder Peter, of total emissions rather than just localised an immediate impacts. The timing of your contribution is important as everyone starts to see the harmful impacts of climate change and can be better informed about the major causes, not just the symptoms. It will still be a long journey to change behaviours and economic constructs however continued, cogent and engaging contributions such as this are important contributions to a society that needs to be appreciative of the rapidly approaching danger humanity is facing.

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  16. Peter Bysouth

    Semi-Retired

    The article certainly has stimulated discussion and the ethical arguments expounded from preconceived positions are a wonder. But what of the basic argument?

    Australia produces more CO2 per head of population (/hp) than any other country and if we add in our exports we would be responsible for more CO2 than Germany with 82m people. However, this conveniently forgets that Aussie coal provides say 5+% of China's CO2 with power that amounts to CO2 being divided between 80-100+ million people…

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    1. Philip Harrington

      Principal Consultant - Climate Change

      In reply to Peter Bysouth

      Hi Peter, Technical that confounds two incompatible variables. Australia's high CO2/capita value doesn't include the emissions embodied in coal or any other export from Australia. Instead these are counted (under the UNFCCC rules) in China or whoever imports them. Therefore we can't claim any Chinese 'heads' to water down our per-capita emissions, I'm afraid. They are what they are.

      Regarding sulphur etc, you shouldn't make any assumptions here. Steaming coals exported from Australia can…

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  17. George Naumovski

    Online Political Activist

    If Australia decides to stop exporting coal, some other country will take over, same as with the uranium!

    What is needed is the “getting people educated about the wasting of energy” as in using less or what is only needed.

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  18. Tony Xiao

    retired teacher

    Power grid stability is highly at risk when large amounts of renewable energy are connected to the grid.
    Solar and wind can only be connected to the grid in small doses especially during the times of significant load changes at start-up and shut-down of commerce and industry.
    World power grid operators are already capping renewables at 5-10 percent of total grid load at peak times. During the constant load periods during the day and night renewables can be cranked up.
    Sane power grid operators wouldn't want too much renewable power on the grid when they are legally responsible and liable for damage caused from grid instability and failure.
    Only thermal, nuclear and hydro generation can ensure reliable voltage and frequency control to ensure a stable power system.

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    1. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Tony Xiao

      What you argue is a common anti-renewable myth. SA has 30% renewable penetration without problems. Germany and Denmark are higher.

      Grid instability comes from many sources most notably demand and massive baseload power stations shutting off unexpectedly.

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    2. Tony Xiao

      retired teacher

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      You cannot increase load from renewables in time to stabilise the grid during times of large load changes. System frequency and voltage have to be brought to normal as quickly as possible and in Australia only Snowy Hydro can do this which is their main function.
      At present more than one third of China's wind generators are disconnected from the grid for instability reasons and German industry has been reporting machinery damage due to grid instability from high concentrations of renewables on the grid. California is also experiencing similar problems and are capping grid renewable energy.
      High concentrations of renewables are ok during times of constant loads at night and in the middle of the day.

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    3. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Not quite 30% but in the vicinity yes. And we are now getting clear cautionary messages about how to proceed. As well as the good things about that wind penetration "The growth in installed capacity, and variability of wind over short time periods means that transmission network and power system management is becoming more challenging." from AEMO a couple of days ago. The maximum 5 minute power loss was 295 MW. That's more than a whole unit at Northern going off-line. http://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/Planning/Reports/South-Australian-Advisory-Functions/Wind-Study-Report

      Wind is fine in my opinion up to a point, but we need to be truthful about where it gets difficult

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    4. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      AEMO have also said the limit is the Heywood Interconnector. That report is out now.

      How many 5 minute ~250MW changes occur during the course of a year? In WA - it happens about 3 times a year. Single thermal units going offline suddenly, overheating usually. The number can only be higher on NEM.

      Wind is not the only cause of instability. Look on the AEMO site and you see incidents of whole transmission lines dropping unrelated to source of generation (mostly gas/coal still). Grid management is what is done moment by moment for any unexpected reason.

      In Germany, they believe they can get to 40% wind by 2015 before more interconnector investment is needed, which would be done anyway to meet demand.

      With any hydro interconnected it's a vastly overstated problem.

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    5. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      "Wind is not the only cause of instability". Yes, I know. And the network is managed to cope with up to the single largest generating unit going unexpectedly. Adding very high penetrations of wind that give fluctuating supply by their very nature is another burden. Another cost. No kidding the interconnector is the limit. There are few problems sufficient money cannot fix.

      In Germany, grid instability is a problem right now. http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/instability-in-power-grid-comes-at-high-cost-for-german-industry-a-850419.html

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    6. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Heard

      Der Spiegel is to renewable energy what The Australian is to climate change.

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    7. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to Ben Heard

      "And the network is managed to cope with up to the single largest generating unit going unexpectedly."

      Indeed and the wind generators over a reasonably large area are equivalent to a single generating unit. Hence the problem when wind starts to make up a large fraction of the generation.

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  19. Kim Peart

    Researcher & Writer

    If Australia suddenly stopped supplying coal to China, how long before China helped itself to our coal?

    We are already in a state of war to our north with Indonesia's invasion of New Guinea, which Papuans have paid the price for with their lives in a slow-motion genocide.

    Is there a Labor Party in Australia, since Labor has apparently merged with the Liberals in disappearing our land from all moral responsibility to refugees?

    Our addiction to coal, oil and gas for energy could have been…

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  20. Steve Hindle

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    You can only burn coal once.
    So it follows that you can only count the emissions once.
    Your proposal to count the emissions from coal back to the country in which it was mined in the end seems little more than a book entry. Australia will look worse, China will look better, and the single atmosphere we all share is unaffected.

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  21. Chris O'Neill

    Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

    We can tell our coal exportees that we no longer want to be a party to their CO2 emissions but we will then rightly be accused of rank hypocrisy when we continue our massively greater CO2 emissions per person than that of our exportees.

    It would be great to say to the rest of the world that you're not going to burn our coal. But if we then go and burn it ourselves extravagantly anyway, how would they describe us? Selfish jerks? Shameless hypocrites? Yes, that's what we would be.

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      The political reality is that if a future government treated global warming seriously enough to phase out coal exports then they would also being implementing major changes to reduce our local emission per person.

      The Greens want Australia to significantly reduce our internal emissions and to phase out coal exports - they are consistent.

      Labor and Liberal only target a 5% reduction of 1990 emissions by 2020 (with much of this achieved from buying offsets from overseas) and expansion of coal exports - they are also consistent.

      Labor needs to give the impression of action on climate change to keep Labor voters happy. And of course the carbon tax is only in place now because that was the price demanded by The Greens for supporting Gillard in the lower house.

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  22. Ian Rose

    logged in via Twitter

    Great article, as some of you have pointed out we can not trust the Libs or Labs to take note of the reality of fossil fuel madness, it's because they have been bullied & cajoled into believing BS.

    I recommend you have a look at how North Africa & Western Europe are dealing with making the transition to renewables www.desertec.org . Before 2030 all our imported German cars will be made in Germany using 100% North African sun.
    If they can do that there surely we can do it here & power South East Asia while we're at it.
    So we all have to vote Green, is suppose :-)

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    1. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to Ian Rose

      In an emergency, which do you use, something that you know works or something that has never been tried? We know nuclear works. One of the numbers in Ben's report

      http://pozible.com/zerocarbonoptions

      Is the amount of CO2 currently being saved because of the 1970s roll out. That number could have been so much bigger if it wasn't for the anti-nuclear movement. So I'd say they don't deserve a seat at the energy policy table. They are a major part of why the climate problem is now so urgent. We…

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    2. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Geoff Russell

      In an emergency you use something that can be done quickly without getting bogged down in endless politics.

      If you want to be rational then you need to be rational about the whole picture. Even IF nuclear was part of a rational energy solution, the irrationality of the debate about nuclear makes it almost certain that we will not have a nuclear power plant in Australia anytime soon.

      This is a climate emergency. So we have to find solutions which are both technically and politically feasible.

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    3. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Geoff Russell

      The current carbon crisis could have been entirely avoided, if we had started building solar power stations in space in the 1970s, when we were in a position to act on the option.

      We could have kept a safe Earth, but our thinking got tapped on Earth and burning fossil fuel like there was no tomorrow.

      To focus fiercely on nuclear energy now is to miss the point that the Sun is the most powerful energy source in the Solar System and will allow us to establish industry in space and assure our cosmic survival.

      We must break this thinking of Earth alone, before we break the Earth and wreck our survival options.

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

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    4. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Kim Peart

      Kim - Do some research on the cost and time it took to build the international space station.

      Building things in space is still costly and difficult.

      Compare this to the cost of building a thermal solar plant on planet earth.

      Space sounds good, but from a practical engineering perspective it will not form any part of the solution for many decades.

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    5. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      I have Michael,

      been engaged in space development advocacy since 1976, including solar power stations in space.

      Having researched basic human survival issues since 1987, I have come to appreciate how very precarious life can be on a planet, considering asteroids, super volcanos and a few other hassles.

      From investigated the carbon crisis since 2006, I have become aware that we have totally failed to keep a safe Earth.

      This total failure is blood on the hands of all politicians, all environmentalists…

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    6. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Kim Peart

      Kim, for the cost of providing my suburb with power from space we could probably provide power for all the capital cities with land based renewables.

      Your heart is in the right place. But your engineering and economics is ignoring reality.

      Note that humanity moving to space may be the path to the future. But 99.99999% of us will remain on Earth and have to live with the planet as it is. So cost effective solutions to prevent climate change are needed.

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    7. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      You suggest Michael,

      "cost effective solutions to prevent climate change are needed."

      The time to act to "prevent climate change" was 40 years ago, when the science of global warming was well understood.

      Did we want to see how much we could get away with and still think that we could "prevent climate change."

      With half the Great Barrier Reef gone already, ocean acidification up 30%, the Arctic ice sheet on the way out and the "Frankenstorm" lurching upon in New York, dangerous climate…

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    8. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Kim Peart

      Both Stern and Garnaut showed that it is very economically feasible to limit global warming to 2 degrees. This can be done without major disruption to growth or our quality of life.

      I think the consequences of global warming at 2 degrees are so severe that this justifies even further action.

      This could also easily be achieved IF we wanted, but it would require more economic sacrifices (but nothing compared to being on a war footing).

      I'm in no denial over the devastating consequences of over use of resources, pollution, and global warming.

      But I think you are in fantasy land thinking that space solutions are the answer. As I said before, just look at the incredible cost of the international space station. And that took international collaboration.

      Perhaps we should just agree to disagree.

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    9. Ian Rose

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Geoff Russell

      No Geoff, nuclear does not work, it is way overly expensive & leaves a waste future generations for thousands of years have to then deal with.
      Solar Thermal IS working now in Andalusia Spain & about to open in California USA.
      Have a look at the $500billion investment in solar thermal by 15 Western European & North African countries along with about 40 Private energy companies, investing in solar thermal to power both N Africa & W Europe www.desertec.org , this is not imaginary but what IS Proven & happening NOW, please get on board with the 21st century technology :-)

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    10. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      It is all so easy Michael,

      to label a position that you disagree with as fantasy.

      This certainly avoids having to understand it.

      The church fathers in Rome at the time of Galileo were adamant that the Sun was in orbit around the Earth and they stuck to that fantasy.

      To understand how our present could have included a safe Earth and a sustainable celestial presence, get back to the 1960s to see how the vision was killed, following the assassination of JFK ~
      NASA budgets were slashed…

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    11. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to Ian Rose

      As long as gullible investors can be found, there will be no shortage of high priced experts who will construct glowing feasibility studies. Take this 2008 prediction of 34 x 250 MW solar stations up and running in Australia by 2020 ... http://bit.ly/U1K9uv Even if these could be built, they'd be roughly equivalent to a single APR-1400 from South Korea. The UAE will have 4 of these up and running by 2020.

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    12. Ian Rose

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      Why don't you go to www.desertec.org & see what they have to say themselves about what they are doing right now?
      The first connection to Italy will be flowing electricity in 2014, this & many other great FACTS as to what IS happening right now can be found on the desertec.org pages.
      You will be pleasantly surprised to see we can have an immediate solar thermal future.

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    13. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to Ian Rose

      Apologies to MLK: I have been to the desertec and have seen the promises.

      Desertec started in 2003. What has been produced? Within 8 years of
      the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the US was producing almost 300 terawatt hours/yr of nuclear electricity. France, with just 50 million people was producing 100 TWh/yr. Little Belgium added 25 TWh/yr in the decade between 1975, when it had no nuclear to 1985 when it had 25 TWh/yr. 8 years is a long time. In the past 8 years, what has Desertec actually produced, apart from some great graphics ... great graphics will not solve our problem.

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    14. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to Geoff Russell

      Let's compare ... Spain 47 million people ... Belgium in 1975, just under 10 million people. In a decade they went from no nuclear electricity to 25 TWh/yr. Spain has 18 solar thermal plants announced (Wikipedia) mostly 50 MW. At a capacity factor of 18 percent, you'd need to build 407 of these to generate 25 TWh/yr. That's 407 site choices, access road builds, complex discussions with locals, etc etc. It's these overheads that make solar such a poor scaling technology.

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  23. Ian Rose

    logged in via Twitter

    I am shocked at how many comment here that Nuclear is proven & Ok while stressing the opposite for renewables.
    While I'm sure your head isn't under a rock you have all been clearly misinformed.
    Take note of how Germany is on track to closing down & replacing all their nuclear power plants with PROVEN renewable energy within the decade.
    Please have a look at www.desertec.org/organisation & don't let the wrong information influence you into encouraging the rest of us to miss out on this great 21st century revolution.

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    1. Ben Heard

      Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

      In reply to Ian Rose

      Renewables are ok IMO. Just not enough in light of climate change.

      Desertec? Here's an exercise. Here is an image of the map for EUMENA
      http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/71/DESERTEC-Map_large.jpg

      How many individual nations does this interconnected system cross? How many of those might one describe as unstable? How many different generation types are needing to be combined? How many km of transmission line is required? How would you propose to wash those mirrors? What would be the price of electricity generated from this system?

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    2. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Ben Heard

      And in Australia, if we built significant solar in our deserts, how many unstable nations would our grid cross?

      If Europe is doing this, what chance have got of convincing the public that Australia cannot and we need nuclear instead?

      And perhaps questions like "How do we dispose of nuclear waste?" might be a bit harder to answer than "How do we keep the mirrors clean?"

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    3. Ian Rose

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ian Rose

      Ben, you are right all those borders to cross & all that instability YET they have put together such an amazing scheme, so if you go to www.desertec.org ALL your questions will be answered.
      Bear in mind how easy it ought to be for us to power ourselves & South East asia, fewer borders & way safer, please do some research www.desertec.org/organisation .
      Micheal you are right, it is way easier to clean the mirrors than dispose of nuclear waste. A person driving a tractor with a big squeegee drives past the mirrors every 4 days or so & that cleans them, wow easy huh?

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    4. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Dry impermeable geology. Hole. Small volume. End of. Nuclear 'waste' is really not that hard a question. The entire world's complement could be used as backfill at Olympic Dam (which just happens to fit the bill) and the operation would barely notice. And that's before even considering Generation IV nuclear technology.

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    5. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      To call disposing of nuclear waste "not that hard a question" is ignoring the reality of the last 50 years.

      To suggest that disposing of nuclear waste is as easy as backfilling a mine is an easy answer, but as they say, every complex real problem has at least one very easy to understand wrong answer.

      Disposing of high-level nuclear waste is not only a technical challenge, but it is incredibly political.

      It is such a difficult problem that as far as I'm aware there is no permanent disposal properly operating yet anywhere in the world.

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    6. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Yes, it is political. But I'm a little bit confident that the days when the anti-nuclear movement could mislead with impunity are gone. When Helen Caldicott tells people that: "When zirconium is exposed to air it burns, it ignites" as she did at a Montreal press conference 18/3/2011, anybody with google and a mobile phone can do a quick search and find out she is wrong. They can find people putting blow torches to zirconium alloy rods and see them not explode. Likewise when she tells people to avoid Turkish apricots because of radioactive contamination, anybody can check on Globocan and find that Turkish cancer rates are about half of Australian cancer rates. And so it goes on. Once I started checking my anti-nuclear beliefs rigorously I realised how much dross I had accepted by believing people like this. As Mark says, nuclear waste isn't a big deal ... but nobody really wants to dispose of it because it is way to valuable as a fuel for fast reactors.

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    7. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Geoff Russell

      Geoff, I agree that lots of the anti-nuclear rhetoric is wrong. But that doesn't make it all wrong.

      Mark Duffett just called disposing of nuclear waste "not that hard a question".

      Many countries have been working very hard for decades to try to find a way which is technically, economically, and politically feasible, and no-one has got there yet. Saying that they never intended to do this because they wanted the fuel for fast reactors is ignoring the history.

      When you and Mark are clearly seen to be ignoring one of nuclear's big problems, everything else you both say now has to be treated with caution.

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    8. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Sure, treat what I say with caution. Check. Check. Check. You can turn the nuclear waste problem into a hard problem by postulating weird and remote possibilities. Therein lies the problem. Plenty of large areas of the planet have been stable for a really long time ... that's why we can find fossils of dinosaurs from millions of years ago. So dig a hole in such a place, stabilise the waste and bury it. Suddenly the only problem is political. Anybody can invent a "what if" scenario ... like what if all the fuel tanks in Adelaide spontaneously opened and were ignited ... think of the deaths! Nobody bothers with such stupidities because they are familiar with fuel tanks, but construct a similar bizarre nuclear scenario ... suppose all the fuel rods at Fukushima fell out of the tank and then were miraculously ground up in a mortar and pestle and then exploded into the air ... think of the deaths!

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    9. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Sorry, but this pushes one of my pet hate buttons - where 'political' is a euphemism for 'yes we know it's irrational, but that's the way it is'; a usage seen in many spheres beyond this one. I don't accept it. It is never a constructive contribution to debate, almost by definition. It is ceding the field to unreason. Certainly by definition it is always an argument for the status quo, which I think we're all agreed is not an option here.

      It is particularly galling when those saying 'it's all too hard because political' are doing their damnedest to make it so.

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  24. Mike Jubow

    forestry nurseryman

    Having read most of the posts here, it is evident that the various writers have far more knowledge in this area than I. However, my observations of the discussion to date is that it seems to me everyone is bogging down in minutia. In my naive view, there should be no discussion of which renewable energy is "best". There is no best. Whether it be geothermal, hydro, solar PV, solar thermal, wind or the collection of cow farts to generate power, they all have a place in getting us to a carbon emission…

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    1. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Mike Jubow

      @ Mike Jubow

      Am in complete agreement with your points regarding a diverse array of renewable energy.

      In addition, to have an energy grid broken into small cells would result in fewer large scale blackouts such as experienced by NE USA during and after Sandy.

      Also, smaller competitive energy suppliers would result in true competition and incentive to provide good service to customers rather than the monopolised control we endure at present. Of course this is exactly what the well cashed-up…

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    2. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      I wonder Dianna,

      if we are in a carbon crisis, because we did not consider the full range of human survival needs.

      Instead of a simple problem in the 1970s, we now face an extremely complex challenge, made all the more so by the rise of China as a superpower demanding energy.

      Reflecting on the comments and seeking working solutions that will deliver a safe Earth beyond the carbon crisis, I am left wondering about the best way forward, which will assure our prosperity and survival in this…

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    3. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Kim Peart

      @ Kim Peart

      "I seek working solutions for a safe Earth and human survival."

      So do I Kim. You are preaching to the converted.

      Which makes me question why you are directing your comments towards me and others who already accept the imperative need to take action to mitigate the effects we humans have made on our climate and environment?

      What is needed is not more preaching, but assisting others who do not understand that humans must transition to clean technology. That it won't be easy, but it will ensure a future for the human species and other creatures threatened by rapid climate changes.

      There will always be planet Earth for the next few billion years until the sun expands into a red dwarf, our past and current behaviour may result in our planet being inherited, not by the meek, but the scuttling such as cockroaches and other life-forms more suited to acidic oceans, broken ecosystems and severe weather events.

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    4. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      You are making an assumption Dianna,

      that the Earth will not go into a runaway greenhouse effect, the Venus syndrome as James Hansen calls it, with CO2 above 350 parts per million (ppm).

      CO2 has now reached 400 ppm.

      Bill McKibben held off on launching 350.org, until Hansen had figured out the level that was too risky to pass.

      We have been here before, 251 million years ago with the Great Dying, when most of the life on Earth perished.

      Now the change is happening much faster than evolution…

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    5. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Kim Peart

      Kim

      Maybe Earth will wind up like Venus if our calculations regarding climate change are too conservative, maybe it will be hit by a gigantic meteorite. There are many things over which we have no control.

      I am completely at a loss as to what point you are trying to make with me here. I thought I had made myself clear that I support immediate action regarding human behaviour and what we CAN control and that is the pollution and wrecking of current ecosystems. I can only recommend from a basis of current scientific understanding.

      If you wish to argue with someone, please try those whose greed and self-interest prevents them from wanting to do anything that will keep ecosystem Earth habitable for all creatures living here and now.

      Regards

      Dianna

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    6. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Could you share what you would do to win back a safe Earth.

      I believe we can do it and I am seeking to get my head around a plan that will succeed.

      Action may need to be swift and how this story is shared with others is critical.

      So many seem to be denying the seriousness of our predicament, let alone what must happen to deal with it.

      It concerns me to read of people holding polarised positions, when they are each holding part of a larger plan.

      Somehow, we must build bridges between the poles and connect the whole to heal the Earth.

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

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    7. Mike Jubow

      forestry nurseryman

      In reply to Kim Peart

      Kim, advocating nuclear in its present state is not supported by applying modern economics. You could probably build a geo-thermal power plant of similar capacity for for the same money and not have the waste disposable problems. Don't forget, disposal of waste is still a cost to the business.

      Thorium reactors seem to be completely off the agenda due to cost even though a thorium reactor could increase its capacity by re-processing spent fuel rods from fission reactors to render them safer for…

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    8. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Mike Jubow

      "You could probably build a geo-thermal power plant of similar capacity (to a nuclear plant) for the same money"

      Sorry Mike, but that's rubbish. There's a reason why no one has done anything remotely close (at least an order of magnitude) to this, nor looks likely to.

      Though the hundreds of 4 km-deep holes into granite that would be required for such a geothermal project would accommodate the entire world's nuclear 'waste' quite nicely.

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    9. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Mike Jubow

      I am confronted with a double-banger core problem Mike,

      of human survival and winning back a safe Earth.

      I am excited to read of your work with Brazillian Diesel Trees and wish you success.

      To Avoid the potential, or inevitable, consequence of a runaway greenhouse effect that simple takes us out, CO2 in the air and sea must be drawn down below 350 ppm as swiftly as possible.

      Compared to the potential of a dead Earth, the nuclear power challenge is miniscule.

      That the Arctic ice sheet…

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    10. Mike Jubow

      forestry nurseryman

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      Mark, I am surprised you have called it rubbish that a geo-thermal facility could be built for similar money as a nuclear one. The consensus seems to be that the costings are slightly lower for the GT system, but has far lower operating costs than nuclear including not having to buy fuel and all that goes with it. Maintenance is far cheaper than nuclear. In fact, it is now calculated that it could soon compete with coal. It is already cheaper than gas firing.

      The following is an excerpt from Scientific…

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    11. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Mike Jubow

      It's not clear from the SciAm article, but it appears to be talking about essentially natural geothermal systems (i.e. hot fluids already present, just waiting for tapping), not the much more artificial (and therefore expensive and highly technically risky) 'hot dry rock' or 'hot sedimentary aquifer' systems that are the only geothermal options for Australia. None of the latter types have ever been constructed to remotely near the capacity of a nuclear plant anywhere in the world, nor this appear likely - certainly less likely now than in 2009 when the SciAm piece was written. It'd be fair to say there's less optimism about geothermal now than there was then, as there have been some serious setbacks.

      It's also incorrect to dismiss uranium fission as 'yesterday's' technology. The potential of Generation IV integral fast reactors to extend the efficiency of reactors 100-fold is hardly consistent with a 'mature' technology.

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    12. Graham Walker

      IT Architect

      In reply to Mike Jubow

      Hi Mike,

      Have a look at this article on a "Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan". http://bit.ly/cqHYOO While I love the idea of space exploration and space power stations and so on that Kim Peart talks about as it all sounds pretty cool, the fact is that we can do what we need to do today, on the ground, in our own country. And note that one of the requirements of the ZCA2020 plan is to cease mining, consumption and export of coal as part of that plan.

      If only we had the will as…

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  25. Peter Sommerville

    Scientist & Technologist

    I am surprised at the naivity of some academics. Nowhere in this article or in the associated threads can I find any reference to what is going on in the USA at the moment. As the USA moves from coal to gas already investment is underway to export coal from US deposits to Asia. New railways are under construction, new ports are being built.

    The author is divorced from reality. The investment in coal powered electricity in Asia is so massive we will be exporting coal for years, in competition with the USA. Time to descend fro the ivory tower of academia into the real world.

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  26. Roger Tonkin

    (Retired) University Lecturer in Econometrics

    Peter Christoff,

    The title to your article is "Why Australia must stop exporting coal", but when you get to the nitty gritty of how this should be done, that is not the case that you make. In the section headed "Killing the goose" you propose something much less than the cessation of all coal exports, namely only that Australia should immediately cap export volumes, and that a modest levy of $2 per tonne be imposed on coal exports. This proposal raises more questions than it answers. What should that cap be? What are the criteria that should be brought to bear on determining the optimal level of that cap? Why just coal?

    The problem is the global level of all carbon emissions, not just emissions from coal. Why is a levy on Australian coal exports preferable to a price on carbon emissions, either a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme?

    Roger Tonkin

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    1. Peter Christoff

      Associate Professor at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Roger Tonkin

      Roger,

      Let me clarify. First, I do say that the cap should involve an immediate freeze on the current level of coal exports. I also mention that fossil exports should be wound back over the next decade. Perhaps I should have been clearer. For coal, I mean 'cease'.

      Second, why coal? Because coal is the fossil fuel for which, in my view, there are no effective counter arguments in relation to its use or export. Some would argue that there are arguments for gas being an effective transitional…

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    2. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Peter Christoff

      Thanks for expanding on your views Peter. It is good to start thinking beyond just 'stop the coal exports' to how we should go about this.

      Remember that our 5% cut is from 2000 levels whilst most countries talk about cuts from 1990. If we take our base year as 1990 then I think we have an increase in emissions, even including the overseas carbon credits.

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  27. Roger Tonkin

    (Retired) University Lecturer in Econometrics

    Peter Christoff,

    Large corporations are experienced in dealing with volatile commodity prices in international and domestic markets, so I do not understand why you believe that a volatile price would be a problem for an ETS in a variable domestic marker.

    You acknowledge that the underlying reason for a carbon market is to encourage efficiencies among emissions producers, and then you state: “That wouldn’t work here”. It is not clear to me exactly what you are saying will not work, or why you…

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Roger Tonkin

      But this 'corporate' and 'business' view ignores the necessity to rapidly reduce global emissions and the moral aspect of Australia's responses.

      Australia cannot solve the problem of global warming, but this problem will never be solved when every country just takes a corporate view and tries to get away with as much as they can for as long as they can.

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  28. Roger Tonkin

    (Retired) University Lecturer in Econometrics

    Hi Michael (MWH),

    Your have made numerous comments on Peter's article and in the subsequent conversations. I am not at all surprised that at some stage I would have to engage with you. A couple of initial comments: First, I am impressed with your persistence, your enthusiasm for the subject and your emphatic respect for logic and for good science. Second, I have to agree with you that many of the contributors fail to address the substantive points in the article; they digress, and a few, unfortunately…

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Roger Tonkin

      Hi Roger,

      Thanks for your kind words about me, and my apologies for being a bit too strong in my first reply to you.

      After so much of battling trolls I must remember to calm down when conversing with genuine and rational people.

      You are of course right that good economics does included externalities, and I remember many businesses getting together with the ACF to lobby Howard for action on climate change.

      I'll say more later, as a friend has just arrived.

      Michael

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  29. Mike Jubow

    forestry nurseryman

    In the meantime, the USA is rapidly investing in up to five new coal ports and the expansion of coal mining in Montana and Wyoming with a view to gaining the capacity to export around 100 million tonnes of coal per year to Asia. Where does this put us in the scheme of things? I would guess that this could force the coal price down and we will see mine closures here in Australia which, with my attitude, is not a bad thing for Aussie farm land and our ecosystems.

    More info at New Scientist, 13 October, 2012 edition.

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    1. Roger Tonkin

      (Retired) University Lecturer in Econometrics

      In reply to Mike Jubow

      Mike Jubow,

      The global implications involve more than a possibile reduction in the global price of coal. Assuming no change in demand, any increase in supply of coal to the world market is likely to result in both a reduction in the price of coal, and an increase in the volume of coal traded on the world market. In turn, that means we can expect to see an increase in the volume of global greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of coal.

      Roger Tonkin

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    1. Kim Peart

      Researcher & Writer

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Chris O'Neill ~

      I have also read the news that, "Indonesia has now over taken Australia as the world's largest coal exporter."
      http://au.news.yahoo.com/latest/a/-/article/15691320/mine-industry-casts-doubt-over-coal-export-prediction/

      In the same report identified by Chris O'Neill, I read concerning coal use ~ "Around the world, there is nothing like enough activity to go anywhere near meeting the IEA's projections of what would be required to have a consistency between expanding fossil fuels…

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