Euphemisms leading us to a “carbon constrained future”

People who don’t believe in personal freedom or liberty rarely admit it.

It is easier to talk in code, which is why you often see environmental advocates use phrases such as “carbon constrained future”, “reduce reliance on private vehicles”, and “more compact urban growth” (from South Australia’s recent Low Carbon Economy Experts Panel); or “properly designing property policies” and “sustainable urban mobility” (from the OECD’s July “Aligning Policies for a Low Carbon Economy“).

What these phrases really mean is that government should set out to limit how individuals live, work and travel, rather than leaving individuals to decide how they want to live their own lives.

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Do divestment campaigns only make target companies cheaper to buy?


Further proof that divestment campaigns are not strategically sound, with news that Spanish firm Ferrovial has launched a new takeover bid for Australian detention centre operator Broadspectrum (formerly known as Transfield).

However, Ferrovial’s offer of $1.35 per share is well down on its previous takeover offer of $2 a share which was rejected last year by the Transfield board.

In August, FreedomWatch covered the divestment of Transfield shares by industry superannuation fund HESTA following a campaign by the Australian Nursing Federation and Australian Services Union. Even Gillian Triggs has criticized the business.

While many advocates believe a divestment campaign ‘punishes’ a business they don’t agree with, successfully lobbying a person, company or superannuation fund to divest shares simply transfers ownership from one entity to another. If a divestment campaign is successful in helping to reduce a share price all it does is make it cheaper for someone else to buy.

Given that yesterday’s Australian Financial Review noted that Ferrovial “as a large foreign company…would be insulated from the social backlash in Australia around the (detention centre) issue”, it would be ironic if all the unions and human rights lobby achieve is to help push ownership offshore, and at a lower price for Australian shareholders.


Opposition to the Adani mine falters: locals want jobs


The Australian reported this week significant discontent within the Indigenous group opposing Queensland’s proposed Adani coal mine, with elders now apparently passing a resolution to support the project.

The news will undoubtedly come as a blow to millionaire environmentalist Graeme Wood who, according to these earlier pieces in the Australian and the Financial Review has bankrolled local Indigenous opposition. Mr Wood is well known for making Australia’s largest ever single donation to a political party – to the Greens back in 2011 and for the purchase in 2014 of the former Gunns woodchip mill which was subsequently made inoperable.

While Indigenous representative Adrian Burragubba is disputing the vote, this latest development comes only a week after a Federal Court judge made scathing comments about Mr Burragubba’s current court action, describing the process as ‘shambolic’.

The Adani process has a while to run, but it is great to see that local Indigenous representatives are bravely standing up to put economic development before the interests of professional environmentalists. But the last word should probably rest with another local Indigenous representative Irene White:

This is about a future for our people… We want the opportunity to get a job, earn a living, buy a car and save up for a house just like any other Australians.


Perspective on what people want

While I’m not one to normally cite the United Nations, Bjørn Lomborg in today’s Australian has mentioned a current UN survey into the issues that are the most important to people around the world.

Climate change is currently rating 16th out of 16 issues, and is a long way behind A Good Education, Better Healthcare, Better Job Opportunities, An Honest and Responsive Government and eleven others.

The results certainly gives a good sense of perspective about the priorities of a majority of people in developing nations.


Confused about carbon targets? You should be


Back in August, then-Prime Minister Abbott announced the Coalition government would pursue a 26-28 per cent carbon reduction target (without specifying how it would be achieved), an announcement he described at the time as “economically responsible”.

However, when Labor announced in July a 50 per cent renewable energy target, an emissions trading scheme and murmured darkly about the need for an emissions reduction target in the 40’s, the government opposed it claiming it would increase electricity prices. After Bill Shorten last week formally announced a 45 per cent emissions reduction target, the government described it as either mad or heroic.

So while the Coalition’s almost 30 per cent target is nothing to be concerned about, Labor’s 45 per cent target is apparently entirely unacceptable. If that wasn’t already enough of a stretch, Prime Minister Turnbull’s Monday announcement that the Coalition government’s target might increase made this even worse.

The prime minister has also now announced the doubling of ‘clean energy’ research from $100 million to $200 million over the next five years, and the diversion of $1 billion from the international aid budget towards climate change, up from the $200 million announced last year. (Presumably he hasn’t read Bjørn Lomborg’s work criticising aid substitution here and here). Thankfully, the PM has decided not to sign a new agreement on fossil fuel subsidies, even though Australia doesn’t actually have any.

In July, Turnbull helpfully pointed out that all government measures to reduce emissions, whether by regulation, emissions trading scheme or a renewable energy target, are in fact a tax. While he probably wouldn’t repeat such a statement now, it is probably the clearest contribution to the debate so far.


Paris climate talks: Just 10 days until it’s all over

Between 40,000 and 50,000 people, who are very concerned about carbon emissions and their effect on the environment, have travelled to Paris for the annual UN climate change talks.

Even Bill Shorten and the Greens are there, despite not being part of the government and therefore not making any decisions.

The charade of these annual talks has been captured in this booklet from the Global Warming Policy Foundation which sets out the seven stages of these meetings: The Hopes, The Last Chance, Time is Running Out, The Circus, The Deadlock, The Breakthrough at 5 Past Midnight and The Cold Light of Day.


Levity aside, there is a real danger that the world’s top politicians, wherever they sit on the political spectrum, gathered together in the City of Love under the gaze of the media and thousands of activists, will make decisions that have serious long term implications for the world economy.

Given the sympathies of Prime Minister Turnbull, a great result for Australia would be if no additional funding commitments are made, and no binding commitments or agreements signed that could constrain future economic growth.

Whether we are so lucky, time will tell. Hopefully it is only 10 days until mainstream political debate in Australia returns to the discussion of spending, revenue, taxation, superannuation and the other issues that governments should be talking about.


Solar farms, wind farms… diesel farms?


Just when you thought the UK’s renewable electricity market couldn’t get any more ridiculous, along comes news that some of the small diesel power generators that Matt Ridley said are offering reserve electricity are actually owned by wind and solar farms.

In a traditional electricity market, consumers demand electricity, then coal, gas, nuclear or oil fueled power stations bid to supply it, and adjust their machines up or down to deliver their product, with a price set based on the level of demand and cost of supply. Simple.

However in a renewables-rich market, because wind and solar farms have no control, grid operators are required to ensure that extra generation capacity is held in reserve, paying generously for this back-up. With many traditional power sources banned, discouraged or run down, diesel is emerging to fill the gap.

Unsurprisingly, this dirty little secret tends to be hushed up. It certainly doesn’t appear on the Hive Energy or Kettering Energy Park websites.

It is the height of hypocrisy for wind and solar farms to take taxpayer-funded subsidies to generate so-called ‘clean’ wind and solar power with one hand, while accepting subsidies to generate diesel power with the other. Especially if this is a way to subvert proposed new rules to make wind and solar farms pay for intermittency costs.

If you are in business and you can’t deliver a product then you should close, and let someone else take your place. But if your customer is the government, they will probably pay regardless.


Why Turnbull and Shorten are both wrong about our energy future

Labor leader Bill Shorten has decided to outflank Malcolm Turnbull from the left with a commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The Coalition government has committed to 26-28 per cent cuts by 2030, which it says takes into account Australia’s position as a world energy exporter.

Targets are popular with politicians because they divorce them from the policies needed to make them happen. However it is not the target that does a country damage – it is the policies that must be implemented to achieve that target.

Taking Wednesday’s South Australian Low Carbon Economy Experts Panel report as a guide, we can expect such  policies to include more renewable electricity, more inner city apartments, discouraging the use of cars and a relocation of traditional manufacturing jobs to other countries.

Given that the Greens’ Renew Australia pledge from just last week pledged net zero emissions by 2040 with a 90 per cent renewable energy target, it stands to reason that Labor’s July pledge of a 50 per cent renewables target will need to be adjusted upwards as well.

An extra 2.5 billion people will move to cities throughout the world over the next 35 years, and emissions will continue to increase. Whatever Australia does will mean nothing for world CO₂ levels, as countries in the developing world will continue to build the homes, factories, roads, buildings and cars that they are entitled to, to achieve the standards of living we enjoy in the west.


Electric cars – powered by coal

electric-cars-chargeProving again that government intervention rarely goes quite as intended, yesterday’s Australian Financial Review featured an article which explained how Dutch tax incentives to increase the use of electric cars has led also to an increase in coal-fired power to charge them:

Three new coal-fired power plants, including two here on the Rotterdam harbor, are supplying much of the power to fuel the Netherlands’ electric-car boom.

… Alongside the boom has come a surging demand for power to charge the vehicles, which can consume as much electricity in a single charge as the average refrigerator does in a month and a half.

The adoption of electric cars throughout the world will significantly increase demand for electricity. Given the intermittency problems of wind and solar, this is much more likely to be fuelled by coal or gas.

Environmentalists typically offer no solution to this dilemma and, as in this article, instead choose to talk up car batteries as an additional source of, or storage mechanism for, electricity. Of course, batteries don’t create electricity and can only store the excess that someone else has to create.


How the ‘home of renewables’ struggles with renewable energy


While FreedomWatch has covered the UK’s current struggles with renewable energy, we mustn’t forget Germany, the so-called home of renewables.

German newspaper Die Welt reported on Sunday that a leading German transmission grid operator will spend €500 million in 2015 on “stabilization measures” when the wind blows too much. Yes – while not enough wind is a perennial problem, so is too much wind, as some needs to be taken offline (though still paid for) and balanced with imported fossil fuel power from elsewhere.

Wind power is also playing havoc with the viability of Germany’s energy companies. EON recently reported a quarterly loss of €7.25 billion, and RWE is also losing money, as government policies and low wholesale electricity prices continue to destroy electricity industry economics.

Not that low wholesale prices mean low consumer prices. German power bills are among the highest in the world because they are half taxes and fees, with the costs of renewables recovered through taxing consumers. Over one million Germans have had their electricity cut off over the last three years, unable to pay bills that have doubled since 2002.

Yesterday’s Australian cited a 2014 study which found that nearly one in three Australians had missed an electricity bill payment in the previous twelve months. Given the German experience, this problem will likely become even more acute as renewables take a greater share of the Australian market.


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