21 Apr 2008

No Such Thing as a Bad Idea?

By Anna Rose
The coal industry hijacked climate change discussions at 2020, argues Summiteer Anna Rose
It was touted as a forum where people would put aside their vested interests and think about the future of our country — not the future of their company. In Kevin Rudd's opening speech he encouraged all Summiteers to be bold, saying "there is no such thing as a bad idea." But the coal industry and their allies would argue otherwise: transitioning away from coal was, in their minds, a very bad idea.

The first surprise came when delegates were divided into streams within our broader portfolio and I found myself in the climate stream with representatives of coal mining companies including Xstrata and Shell, yet not a single person from an environmental NGO. No-one from Friends of the Earth, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace, Climate Action Network Australia or any of the State Conservation Councils.

These are the organisations who were campaigning on climate change decades before Al Gore's film and decades before it became a popular political issue. These are the organisations — the movement — who put climate change on the agenda, and who did all the groundwork to make last year's election the world's first climate election. Why would the coal industry be represented but not the climate movement, in the "climate" stream of 2020? This was remedied on the second day, by abolishing the issue-based streams and coming together as a large group — but the damage had been done.

I was there as a representative of the Australian Youth Climate Change Coalition with the simple message that we are running out of time to act on climate change. We must make fundamental changes to our economy now and we urgently need to do whatever is most effective to safeguard our climate and our future.

So I came to the Summit willing to listen to new ideas and creatively brainstorm around a few I'd been thinking about — a personal carbon allocation scheme and a nation-wide green job creation scheme. We could design a massive green job program that would inspire Australians to get involved, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and make Australia a world leader in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

These were just two of my ideas; I was excited to hear what others had come up with.

However, it became clear at the start of the Summit that members of the coal industry and their "business as usual" allies had pre-determined their position and approach and it was one that aggressively pushed so-called "clean coal" and argued for more subsidies to the coal industry for them to build clean coal plants. At one point a delegate argued against reducing Australia's carbon footprint (ostensibly because we have a "special place in the world" and could provide energy for the rest of the world — I was unsure why we couldn't still do this while reducing our emissions if we move to renewables).

Peter Coates, from the giant coal mining company Xstrata (recently found to be Australia's biggest polluter), even argued to abolish the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target. This is also the position of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network who are focusing all their efforts this year on undermining the emissions trading scheme by proposing free permits to coal-fired power generators.

One of the coal industry participants stated that he wanted a level playing field for "clean coal" and that the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target is unfair. This is laughable considering that the fossil fuel industry in Australia already receives $9 billion in Federal subsidies each year — 28 times more than what is spent on renewable energy.

The day before the Summit, 20 twenty-year-olds representing all major Australian youth organisations presented a statement calling for urgent and immediate action on climate change to Minister for Youth, Kate Ellis, in Canberra. The statement urges the Government to give young Australians a real chance of a safe future by urgently adopting much deeper greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. The organisations call on the Government to make Australia a world leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy which would create thousands of jobs for young Australians.

At the end of the Summit, youth delegates re-grouped and voiced our frustration and disappointment at the way the coal industry had hijacked the climate agenda. They did not act in good faith but rather pushed their business agenda, meaning a small minority silenced the majority of people in the room who pushed for a statement calling for no new coal-fired power stations in Australia (unless or until carbon capture and storage was proven to work, proven safe, efficient and commercially viable — which it is not at this stage, and the majority of the climate movement believe it never will  be).

We believe that the sense of urgency — it is our future that is at stake — was lost. We released a statement to the media congratulating the Rudd Government for their willingness to hear our ideas, but condemning the coal lobby for their intervention which obstructed discussion of some really new ideas.

I certainly don't blame Penny Wong or Kevin Rudd for the weak outcomes on climate change from 2020. I was excited to be involved and thought the idea of an ideas-generating summit was excellent. The coal industry, however, used the Summit to push their agenda through an organised attempt — strategically, in the lead-up to the Federal budget — to position "clean coal" as the solution to climate change and one in need of more Federal subsidies. We do not need new coal in Australia. We can deploy energy efficiency and renewable energy, and fundamentally change our society and economy — for example through distributed energy systems rather than the centralised grid. And we could do it tomorrow, long before "clean coal" has been proved or disproved.

My generation expected — and needed — better outcomes from the 2020 Summit for our climate, and our future. As Friday's youth statement reads, "We have one climate, one future, and one chance to save it."

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Posted Monday, April 21, 2008 - 15:16

Thanks for that account Anna.

I think you might think again about the responsibility of Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong. Why isn't Peter Garrett the Minister for Climate Change? Who chose the people who chose the participants? Why did so many big shots end up being included, don't they already get their views through far more than the rest of us? Why where you streamed in with so many coal people? Why was Global Warming not one of the prime topics, or THE prime topic, instead of being diluted under the catch-all "Environment"? Why, for that matter, do they say "Climate Change" instead of Global Warming?

Clearly many vested interests played this gathering to ensure no great damage was done to their own cause. The coal lobby seems to have outdone everyone else, as usual, but they're far from alone. Why were, of all people, Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer invited?

This gathering was carefully managed so ensure only "safe" things came out of it. (President Soekarno used to describe his regime as "guided democracy". At least he was honest about it.) But 2020 might have a good effect in the longer run, because it raised a lot of expectations. Perhaps we should go ahead and invent the democracy we thought was supposed to occur there.

Geoff Davies

Posted Monday, April 21, 2008 - 18:31

Interesting and saddening report, Anna.

For me the oxymoronic nature of "clean coal" just got oxymoronicer. In response to a recent New Scientist article "Cleaning up coal", one correspondent, Mr Owen Jordan, wrote that the challenge of burning coal cleanly is AS NOTHING compared to the emissions occurring while winning it from the ground.

See his letter and my response to it at:

In a nutshell, he suggests that CH4, CO, and CO2 emissions from disturbing the coal seams can equal twice those from burning the coal; that high carbon-content shale and mudstone equal to some ten times the coal won is disturbed and exposed to the air, and begins to oxidise to CO2. In short, the CO2 produced by burning the coal equals 5-10% of the emissions brought about by mining. And that does not include the emissions resulting from the trucks and trains used to collect and transport the coal to the power stations.

So even the highest achievable carbon capture will prevent only a tiny fraction of the total damage done to the atmosphere.

Posted Monday, April 21, 2008 - 20:03

Thank you, Anna Rose. Thanks for getting this scam out in the open!
I agree with Geoff Davies. This whole 2020 summit was a PR scam hatched up by Rudd to allow him to push his own ideas, and get what he will call a mandate. And to get what he wanted, he stacked the decks.Utterly predictable. Rudd is a control freak, and he would certainly have never called this thing without knowing in advance, in broad principle, what was going to come out of it.
Rudd is also utterly backing Big Business, so his including all the Big Business Barons in the stacking is no surprise either.
I am afraid that I have said previously that this whole thing would be a waste of time unless the summiteers really got to grips with population control. As far as I can see, it was not even discussed.
All this is like Australia and the World Burning, while the pollies and their mates play their fiddles.No one in control is really serious about doing anything constructive.
A cynic? Damned right I AM!!

Dr David Horton
Posted Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - 10:31

I was horrified by the climate change section, particularly what appeared to be a bullying approach by Penny Wong, in which she wouldn't discuss reducing consumption, apparently the economy can keep growing forever, and wouldn't discuss population, which also apparently can go on rising forever. Within these parameters, it seemed, and only within them, you could say what you liked about climate change. Oh, and then she had forgotten to include in the preamble, until reminded, any statements that (a) Australia should reduce emissions and (b) climate change was an urgent problem. None of this inspires confidence. Nor did the exclusion (I think) of any Greens while inviting not only the coal industry, but other big business reps, and politicans like Truss and Heffernan.

I have just drafted a speech I think Rudd should give (http://www.blognow.com.au/mrpickwick/85947/Especially_sweat.html), but I won't hold my breath. I think the Labor Party is rapidly showing that being in thrall to the CFMEU is as bad as being in thrall to the energy companies (Martin Ferguson is in thrall to both of course) when it comes to action on climate change.

David Horton

Posted Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - 10:35

Dear Anna
Thank you for the insight. I had my suspicions.

I share the views with Geoff in regards to the inclusion of so many high-profile people. The summit was supposed to be the gathering of the brightest people of Australia but perhaps that could be interpreted as the most shining/glamorous people and consequently represented by the media, showing a lot of footage on the famous actors and less on the thinkers.

Posted Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - 11:00

Utterly depressing, it is not, that so many people can be conned so easily, from what I read in the Mass Media.
I am afraid that I have never been convinced that Rudd is going to do anything constructive about Global Warming and associate ills. He and his mates just have too many mates in Big Industry.
I fear that by the time we get anyone into the PMs' chair who is capable of kicking the Big Boys out the door, and ignoring their squeals and blandishments, it will be far too late...but then, that is not going to worry any of the present brood of time servers. How the Hell do we get over this short term thinking that prevails with most pollies.
This big shove to 'reform' the Tax System, will of course, if it does anything at all, make things easier for the top side of town, and a lot damned harder for the rest....as usual!
And thanks, David Horton, for telling us about Penny Wong, and her controlling machinations. We already know that Peter Garrett has been totally and absolutely nobbled, now we know that Penny Wong has also been 'told'..... if she was not already 'in tune' with Rudd.

Peter Campbell
Posted Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - 11:29

It is dissappointing to hear that the coal industry and some politicians hijacked the climate change topic (yet again) to further their own cause, when we should clearly be transitioning away from coal.

It was great that you were there, your post and update is excellent. I am contributing to this wiki article on dirty "clean coal" http://www.greenlivingpedia.org/Clean_coal and will add information about this poor outcome to it.

Posted Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - 16:04

While I agree that the outcomes from the sustainability sub-summit were disappointing, and the fact that the coal industry nobbled the idea of a new-build coal moratorium unsurprising, your piece doesn't seem to suggest that you know all that much about the arguments against your own position.

There is a perfectly respectable case for abolishing the MRET once the emissions trading scheme is brought in, for instance, and one perfectly compatible with environmental goals. The working assumption of economists - and, most of the time, they turn out to be right - is that the market is better at deciding the most efficient way of allocating scarce resources than top-down decisions by central authorities. So it might turn out that the cheapest way to cut emissions is by renewable energy. Great, in that case the MRET is redundant. Or, it might be that it's cheaper to institute a massive program of energy conservation. Or hybrid cars. Or switching from road to rail. Or - and this is quite a likely scenario - switching from low-efficiency brown coal power to high-efficiency combined-cycle gas. Whatever. By insisting that we have to cut emissions by one particular method - which, at the moment, amounts to building wind turbines, seeing that solar panels cost a fortune and things like solar thermal and hot rocks are still at the prototype stage - we will either spend more cutting emissions than we would have otherwise, or we will cut emissions by less than we would have otherwise. Either way, it's money that could have been spent on other environmental goals. How is this a good thing?

As for "green jobs", Australia does not have a huge problem with shortage of jobs at the moment. Nor, with the baby boomers retiring over the next few years, is it likely to. If we have a problem, it is more that the currently unemployed, or under-employed, do not have the skill set currently desired by employers.

As to distributed energy, it's not ready to be deployed "tomorrow" at anything like a cost competitive with grid energy, even that from renewable sources.

Finally, could you explain to me why a "personal carbon allocation scheme" is anything other than a bureaucratic nightmare and a waste of time, given that Australia is well into the process of deciding on an ETS? Why the hell do we need another one?

Perhaps I am doing you a disservice; maybe you've got good arguments on all of the above that you didn't have room to present here. But, on the basis of what you've said here, I'm not surprised the coal industry reps made mincemeat of you.

Robert Merkel

Posted Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - 17:08

I think it's fair to say no-one made mincemeat of anyone in the climate change sub-group, if only because there wasn't time to fully develop arguments.
Most economists would agree that useful cuts will have to include all the schemes listed in the previous post. Further, solar photovoltaic may cost a "fortune" but so far ccs has proven even more expensive, and delivered fewer results - or no results. However it will very likely have to be part of the mix if it is proven to work on a big enough scale.
The most frustrating element of this particular group was the fact that some people appeared to be lobbying for a cause rather than workshopping ideas.
But there were moments of levity, such as the suggestion that "clean coal" be defined as renewable energy. This was upheld, until it was pointed out that coal isn't renewable ...

Posted Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - 18:18

About the only thing the "Free Market" does is make damned sure that greed, pursuit of the mighty dollar, is always placed well above ecology, sustainability and rationality. If we retain Capitalism in it's present form for much longer, we will have absolutely NO chance of surviving. Economists almost always right?? Excuse me, this is utter nonsense. Put up 10 protagonists of the 'evil art' an you will have 10 different opinions, al of them totally antithetical to humanity. The terrible harm done to this world by protagonists of the Chicago School of Economics and their predecessors, in the machinations of the World Bank and the IMF and the US Administrations, which continues to this day, although somewhat consigned to 'evil witchcraft' these days, will take hundreds of years to repair, if ever.
Economists of this School are probably responsible for millions of deaths in just Latin America, from starvation and the depredations of US supported (and installed) dictators.

Tom McLoughlin
Posted Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - 21:12

Come on Merkel get it out there you nuke power groupie, you. You can't sledge Anna Rose on 'affirmative action plus' re MRET, even after an ETS, when in fact we should be having a CARBON TAX, more efficient, more equitable. As well as tariffs and bans on highly CO2 embedded imports not least on Chinese super tankers stuffing our major city bays for containers of junk.

And cubby, I can hear an echo in here. Hang on what was that Herald story Monday about this very 2020 stream by someone called .... Good on ya mate, Merkel is rat bag for sure. Keep going Anna Rose. You beaut.

Here's something Rudd doesn't get. Climate change movement didn't choose him really. He and ALP Inc chose climate change to ride into power and wedge Libs and Nats. The beat on climate change policy progress is only going to grow louder not softer whatever the ALP cynics choreograph.

It's already swallowed the National Party (still digesting), and taken a large bite of the Liberal Party. It has more then enough appetite for the ALP too.

Rudd thinks he's ahead of the dangerous climate change game. But he's not. No one is. The ALP is one cyclone Tracey in Brisbane away from meltdown. I'll say it again. Spend your super. At least that way you will get to enjoy it.

Posted Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - 21:52

Tom, you're right. A carbon tax is in some ways a better idea (though it has the disadvantage of not making reduction targets explicit). But, for a variety of reasons, an ETS is what we're going to get. Given that, we should have the most efficient and equitable scheme possible. On that front, a scheme that involves every Tom, Robert, and Grandma Harriet having to manage their personal stock of carbon permits is a recipe for an administrative nightmare and the less-informed getting screwed at every turn.

Now maybe there's some good counterarguments to that. But the point I'm trying to make is that we all <EM>know</EM> the coal lobby are going to use every forum available to them to frustrate substantive action on climate change. So it's vital that if one is going to deal with them, one goes into battle prepared.

To take my support of nuclear power (or, more correctly, my non-opposition to it). I am well aware it's an unpopular position, and lots of people are going to throw the kitchen sink at me when I raise the issue. That's why I try to do my research so that when somebody wants to debate it with me I'm ready.

Posted Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - 10:25

If we institute anything like the Carbon Trading scheme as introduced in Europe, the Power Barons are going to cheer all the way to the bank, as they did there. A carbon tax is probably the only real and effective way to go, even though it would be, like all taxes, and specially the GST, extremely inequitable to the non-rich! The poorer you are, the more hurt from taxes. The richer you are, the less taxes have any effect, especially where the rich can entice Governments to give them lots and lots of exemptions and tax breaks. As they did in Europe, and as they would, and are, here.
But this red herring always being dragged across the bows of sustainable existence by the nuclear power lobby, as absolutely insane as any thought of using Nuclear Power with its resultant extremely long lasting waste and being so easily subject to terrorist attack is, must be resisted by all thinking people. There are some extremely rich and powerful companies, such as Westinghouse, with contacts in all Governments, even Australia, who are pushing this barrow for all it is worth, and it is worth a lot to them, short term. And short term is all any Big Business is interested in. Short term profits for shareholders, and massive remuneration for always greedy Executives.
Capitalism must be taken, shaken, and put back in the hands of the people; removed from the hands of ruthless, unelected Executives of Multi-National Corporations who know no ethics, no morals and no God or other Deity other than Mammon, and which are capable of, and do, buy Governments, everywhere.

Posted Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - 13:24

I read today that we have a cooling planet, another ice age on the way. Maybe we need a bit of global warming. The earth is a living organism. Perhaps it knows better than we mere humans what it needs.

Posted Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - 18:11

In the normal cycle of things, the Earth is due to slip back into an Ice Age about now. We have been in an 'interregnum', a warming period, the only time when life on Earth can expand. These 'interregnums' have been lasting from 11 to 17 thousand years, in general, and we are now towards the end of our warm period.
What has happened, of course, is that Human Induced Global Warming is working to fight the natural cooling, and winning hands down, but we will see ebbs and flows, and are doing so. These ebbs and flows may well be violent, and all life will suffer from them. From this I am not trying to infer that Global Warming is or may be a 'good thing', because humans know so little, and the effects of all this are quite beyond our predictors.
I believe that the time of Humans on Earth is coming to an end, by whatever means, and our time will be a lot shorter than that of the dinosaurs, and as someone wrote today, those of us who do not live much beyond the next 10-20 years are going to be the lucky ones. Even in this period, life is going to get extremely brutish, with wars over food, water, air and land. But we may have the Big One over energy before that, if oil runs out, remains so expensive or even more so, and the Nuclear boosters win. Kabooom!

Tom McLoughlin
Posted Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - 18:16

Err yes Mr Chapman's piece in The Australian claiming predominant role of sun spots (again). Only this has been considered and discarded by the IPCC already. Also some tricky statistics about reduced temperature but they don't look right at all.

Stay tuned for a comprehensive rebuttal in due course, would be my suggestion. By such as Hansen at NASA or IPCC or our own local Met Bureau. Might take a week while they do real science?

Posted Thursday, April 24, 2008 - 12:53

The global cooling claim is also being spruiked by the denialists because the current La Nina condition has lowered global temperatures, as expected.

On the one hand the denialists claim the decades-long warming trend documented by scientists is not global warming, it's only a natural fluctuation.

On the other hand they claim a one-year drop in temperature is not a natural fluctuation, it's global cooling and the start of an ice age.

Their claims are totally inconsistent of course, but by next year (when their ice age claim will look pretty stupid) they'll have moved on to other claims, and serious action on global warming will have been delayed another year.

Geoff Davies

Posted Thursday, April 24, 2008 - 13:20

No, check your science, Geoff Davies! The world has gone in and out of Ice Ages for millions, if not billions of years, in cycles or varying length. Has a lot to do with our position in relation to the Sun, our elliptical orbit. The present Warming Interregnum has seen almost the whole of modern human history, from Neanderthal Man in Europe to the present. This present cycle is due to end about now, give or take a few thousand years. We have already come beyond the norm.
Human induced Global Warming is rapidly warming the planet, at the same time as we should be slightly cooling. I am most certainly NOT a denialist, I have been warning of Global Warming and it's effect on Humanity for many years, long before it became a 'popular' media event. I will have nothing to do with claims of blame being apportioned to sun spots (totally scientifically disproved). Fluctuations, well yes, but these fluctuations generally cover thousands of years, and the Human Induced Global Warming fluctuations have been brought on in a hundred or so years of industrial activity...and that is FAST, geologically speaking. ONLY very fast and extensive human activity in reducing Carbon and other pollutants in the atmosphere will save the human race (and the rest of life on Earth) from the depredations of human greed and overpopulation.
The SLOWLY coming Ice Age will NOT save the Human Race!!! By now, Global Warming has got far too big a head of steam, and I see no real chance of humans doing anything about it before it is far too late. China, just for starters, has no intention of slowing consumerism
Nor will the oh-so-scary proposals to induce Global Cooling by bringing forward a Nuclear Winter. There sure are some 'fruit cakes' out there!

Posted Friday, April 25, 2008 - 10:19

Not sure what provoked you Dazza. I'm well aware of everything you say. All I said is one year of La Nina does not make the start of an ice age. I didn't say there won't be an ice age.