Archive for category Energy

In his State of the Union Speech, President Obama refuses to say the “c” word – coal

sotu2014

President Barack Obama during the 2014 State of the Union speech

UNITED States President Barack Obama has just finished his state of the union address and the nation’s coal industry must be wondering what they did to offend him so much.

Maybe it was the climate change thing?

Yes, it’s probably that.

Because while the intergenerational challenge of climate change formed a key plank of the president’s speech, the other “c” word – coal – just didn’t get a look in.

The President did refer to “power plants” but only to remind Americans that he had told his Environmental Protection Agency  ”to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.”

Obama made clear that he sees the country’s booming fracked gas industry as “the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change”.

The problem with this approach, though, is that by embracing fracked gas you risk delaying the clean energy revolution that only renewables can offer in the long term.

A few months ago I wrote on my Guardian Planet Oz blog how the President was making the challenge of tackling climate change a simpler question of right versus wrong. He did it again today.

The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.

If Obama wants to be able to say to his children that Americans did “all we could” to fight climate change when he was the leader of the free world, then I doubt they would see the liberation of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from burning gas as being a particularly prudent measure.

But leaving aside this internal inconsistency,  Obama is clearly happy to pick winners in energy policy.

Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced. Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.

Eradicating subsidies for fossil fuels has long been on the agenda of the world’s foremost energy policy advisory group, the International Energy Agency.  Currently global subsidies for the fossil fuel industry stand well above US$400 billion.

IEA chief economist Fatih Birol says the renewable energy industry should see fossil fuel subsidies as “public enemy number one“.

Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency denies the US Government is waging a “war on coal” but this SOTU address makes it clear that he sees little future for the ageing and polluting  industry.

The President has what he has described as an “all of the above” energy policy, but judging from this speech, “all of the above” no longer includes coal.

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Australia’s new energy minister Gary Gray – a brief climate history

Resources and Energy Minister Gary Gray on ABC’s Lateline

AUSTRALIA has a new energy and resources minister in the form of Gary Gray, who was elected to the Federal Parliament in 2007 after six years as an adviser and corporate affairs director for gas company Woodside.

This is a piece of Gary Gray’s history which is uncontested, given that it appears on his biography on his ALP home page.

But one aspect of Gray’s history which has been contested, are his views on climate change and an apparent association with a climate science denial organisation.

Just minutes after Prime Minister Julie Gillard announced Gray’s appointment, a handful of people I follow on Twitter were pointing to claims that Gray had been a founder member of the Lavoisier Group.

On Climate Spectator, Tristan Edis also reported that Gray was a founder member of the “Lavoisier Institute [sic]“.

But after looking into the Lavoisier archives and reviewing some documents sent to me by journalist Bob Burton, it’s pretty clear that Gray wasn’t even a member, never mind a founder member

Read the rest of this entry »

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Expect Scepticism Over Gas Industry-Funded Research

A LEADING United States university has decided to pull the plug on a research institute focussing on energy from gas after questions were raised over its ties to the industry.

Bloomberg reports that the “potential conflicts of interest”  had created  a “cloud of uncertainty” over the work of the Shale Resources and Society Institute at New York’s State University at Buffalo.

Investigations led by the non-profit Public Accountability Initiative  alleged there were flaws in the institute’s research, which had engaged in ”industry-spin” while the authors of the institute’s sole report had failed to disclose previous industry ties.

In closing down the institute, the university’s president Satish Tripathi said in an open letter:  ”Conflicts — both actual and perceived — can arise between sources of research funding and expectations of independence when reporting research results. This, in turn, impacted the appearance of independence and integrity of the institute’s research.”

DeSmogBlog has been rather less forgiving, placing the institute’s research into a new category it has dubbed “frackademia”.

Tripathi said that given the university’s “geographic situation” in the line of sight of the booming shale gas industry, it was important the university played a role in research into energy and the environment.

But it seems that even the perception that the university might be funded by the industry (it has claimed the institute hadn’t received industry cash) was enough for the “cloud of uncertainty” to overshadow work it was doing.

In a similar geographical situation is the University of Queensland in Australia, one of the leading research institutions in a state where a $60 billion boom in the coal seam gas industry is currently underway. UQ also has a centre launched to research the coal seam gas industry.

Yet the difference here is that the university has openly welcomed millions of dollars of coal seam gas funding. The UQ Centre for Coal Seam Gas‘ multi-million dollar budget dwarfs that of the Buffalo institute, which according to the student newspaper had an annual budget of just $177,000.

The Centre for Coal Seam Gas runs on a “membership model” with a minimum funding commitment of $2.5million over five years. Published figures show that of the centre’s $16 million in contributions over five years, $15 million has come from major gas companies. So far, British-owned BG Group (Queensland Gas Company) has pledged $10 million, Arrow Energy (owned by Royal Dutch Shell and PetroChina) $2.5 million and Santos $2.5 million.

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Premier Newman Can Do Climate Science Denial

JUST in case anyone was in any doubt, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman reminded Australia earlier this week that his state was most certainly “in the coal business” and that protecting the Great Barrier Reef wouldn’t come before fossil fuel exports.

But as well as being “in the coal business”, it appears that Premier Newman and his environment minister Andrew Powell are taking their first steps into the business of climate science denial.

Minister Powell repeated a statement he had made to ABC’s Radio National that he was not convinced that humans were having an impact on climate change, a position which immediately puts him at odds with every national scientific academy in the world, the advice from his own chief scientist and the position of the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the United Nations.

While Minister Powell made a point of saying that the environment should be protected (what else could the environment minister say, after all) his boss, Premier Campbell Newman, decided his minister’s view on climate change was “refreshing“. I’d choose a different word.

As reported in the Brisbane Times, Mr Powell said his views were “fairly consistent across a certain percentage of the population” as if this was a valid excuse.

Fortunately in this case, the general public are not the ones studying the complex nature of positive feedbacks in the climate system or taking meticulous observations of global temperatures to find we’ve just had the warmest decade since records began as levels of heat in the atmosphere and oceans continues to climb.

The Premier’s “scepticism” comes down to ignorance of the scientific process and entirely unrealistic expectations of the climate science community. Take these quotes as exhibits.

I mean, the sea level rise predictions have changed constantly over the last 15 years… we don’t know what the impacts are precisely. We don’t. The scientists don’t…. But in terms of what the precise impacts will be of climate change, anybody who says they know is having a lend of you, and it’s about time people started to tell the truth… We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen here, the scientists don’t know and there’s a lot of scientists arguing about the actual precise impacts.

Newman’s statements might seem reasonable to the majority of Queenslanders disengaged from the climate change issue, but they show an abject failure to understand how climate change science works.

Take the Premier’s mention of sea level rise. Of course the projections have changed in the last 15 years, because the issue of sea level rise isn’t yet a closed book. Few scientific endeavours ever are. Sea level rise projections in the last IPCC report came from research which took place around 2005. Depending on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, global sea level would be between 18 and 59 cm higher by the end of this century than it was in 2000, but the report had a very important caveat.

The projections do not include uncertainties in climate-carbon cycle feedbacks nor the full effects of changes in ice sheet flow, therefore the upper values of the ranges are not to be considered upper bounds for sea level rise. They include a contribution from increased Greenland and Antarctic ice flow at the rates observed for 1993-2003, but this could increase or decrease in the future.

In other words, there was still lots of work to be done to give policy makers and planners a better idea of what to expect. And there was still uncertainties that could push the sea level to much higher levels. Today, as the research effort has continued, even the most conservative climate scientists talk of sea level rises of a metre or more.

The Queensland Government’s own Office of Climate Change, which Premier Newman is in the process of closing, outlined the impact of sea level rise on the state in it’s “Climate Change in Queensland” report two years ago. A half metre rise in sea level would likely increase the chances of extreme events such as flooding from occuring once every 100 years to several times a year. As a former mayor of Brisbane, which experience devastating floods a little over a year ago, you might think the Premier may have taken some interest.

Being the complex system that our world’s climate is, the estimates of how high temperatures will go, how high sea levels will rise, how rainfall will change or how many extreme heatwaves and super-cyclones we might get, always come with an uncertainty range. Anyone who has ever read a peer-reviewed climate science paper knows this.

Hinting that we should be waiting until we’re 100 per cent sure what will happen before we take firm action, is a bit like saying you’re happy to drive your car at double the speed limits because no-one can say for sure that you’ll definitely crash. And while everyone has heard the stories of a grandparent who smoked 50 cigarettes a day and lived until they were 90, most people acknowledge that smoking massively increases your chances of dying of cancer.

Perhaps the Premier’s statements are instead an attempt to offset his own cognitive dissonance – the sick feeling that you get inside when you try and hold two conflicting positions simultaneously.

Because if the Premier does believe, as he also said, that “we’re using non-renewable resources and we need to change our ways” then how can he also proudly declare that Queensland is “in the coal business” while dismissing a UNESCO report criticising the coal and gas export infrastructure being built alongside the Great Barrier Reef, risking its World Heritage status?

In 2009 while then Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman – known as Can Do Campbell – was busily pushing his green credentials, the Labor opposition accused him of being a “climate change sceptic” without providing much evidence.

After all, his council had a “Plan for Action on Climate Change and Energy” and a “Climate Change and Energy Taskforce”. Newman was determined to make Brisbane Australia’s most sustainable city, said the United Nations Environment Programme, by running low-emissions buses, planting trees, having a bike share program and buying renewable energy.

The then Lord Mayor even launched the Green Heart City Smart scheme, with its ubiquitous “I [green heart] Brisbane” catchphrase and branding.

It seems now though, that Mr Newman’s heart is conflicted with coal and climate science denial.

Pic: Flickr/dale.n

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Ten Funniest Climate Change Videos Ever (that I’ve seen and can remember)

CAREFULLY plucked like dew-covered orchids from the garden of YouTube, I hereby present the ten funniest videos about climate change which have ever been made, ever, by anyone, anywhere, ever – or at least of those I’ve seen. Which isn’t many.

But anyway, I should say there’s swearing and stuff, so best turn the sound down. I think the phrase is “Not Suitable For Work” which generally means it’s suitable for sharing at work.

1. Worrying research from the coal lobby. Wind turbines could blow the earth off its orbit. The Onion discusses.

2 British comedian Sean Lock on mopping up oil spills with a seal pup and feeling generally helpless. Read the rest of this entry »

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Is a misleading climate change op-ed in the Wall Street Journal really news?

WHAT’S news these days when it comes to climate change?

Could it be the news that rising temperatures could severely affect the world’s wheat crops maybe?

Or how about how human emissions of carbon dioxide have “raised ocean acidity far beyond the range of natural variations

Nah. Well, at least not if you’re The Australian newspaper, which just loves to send reality spinning down rabbit holes when it comes to climate change.

What’s news for The Australian, is that 16 “scientists” with outlying views on the risks of human-caused climate change have dusted off their previously debunked talking points for an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

So confident was The Australian about the “facts” contained in the editorial, that they didn’t bother to get a single response from an actual working Australian climate scientist. So let’s do a quick fact check for ourselves. Read the rest of this entry »

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Hector, the healthy lump of coal, targets kids

HE’S healthy, he juggles fruit, plays cricket, he always rides safely and kids can colour him in.

Meet Hector, the lump of coal in a hi-vis safety jacket. Apparently, Hector has been popping up at community events in the Mackay area of north Queensland for a couple of years.

He’s the mascot for the Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal and the main attraction in the “fun zone” on the terminal’s website (I was keen to do the word search but it wasn’t working, but the colouring pages are great… I’ve already run out of black crayon).

Dalrymple is the larger of the two terminals which make up the Port of Hay Point – which is laying claim to be the world’s biggest coal export port. The terminal shipped out 63.5 million tonnes of healthy and wholesome coal last year. Isn’t that great, kids?

Now I don’t want to spoil the family fun or anything, but shouldn’t someone mention.. erm… climate change?

The marketing chaps at Dalrymple Bay aren’t the first to morph environmentally questionable sources of energy into fun for kids.

Super Rock

There’s been Super Rock and his sidekick Spurt – two chunks of coal which starred in a kids colouring book to promote the Pennsylvanian coal industry described generously by Grist as “wonderfully crappy”.

I’m sure you’ll agree, though, he’s not a patch on Hector.

Earlier this year, there was Talisman Terry, the “friendly fracosaurus” [gedit?] who featured in a colouring book from the gas company Talisman Energy.

The company withdrew the colouring book after complaints it was engaging in child-directed propoganda.

A wicked parody of Terry’s exploits from American satirist Stephen Colbert probably didn’t help matters, especially the bit where Terry committed “frackicide” by standing in the shower and setting fire to the water.

But it’s not just corporations who are keen for kids to see the “cool” side of coal.

In Illinois, the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity runs an annual competition (top prize $100) where school kids draw posters about coal, the best of which are chosen to feature in the state’s “coal calendar” which is in its 23rd year.

Among the winning entries, are such marketing gems as “If Coal is Our Past… then it’s also our future,” and “You can’t say no to Illinois Coal”.

I’m wondering which industries might be next to kiddify their products? How about Uri Uranium, Billy the Brominated Flame Retardant, Calista the Cluster Bomb and her friend Lenny the Landmine?

Or we could have Asbestos Bertha, Chris the Chlorofluorocarbon or DDT Debbie? (I’m claiming copyright on all those).

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Wielding power the Rinehart way

IT was one of those “drop your bacon sandwich at the audacity” kind of stories – the sort of revelation that shows what power and influence in a democracy really means.

Australia’s wealthiest individual, Hancock Prospecting chairman Gina Rinehart, loaded up a couple of Federal MPs onto her private jet and flew them to India for a wedding.  What for?

At the time, Rinehart was trying to secure a deal with infrastructure giant GVK, which had shown an interest in buying into some of her coal mine projects. Walking up the aisle was Mallika Reddy, grandaughter of GVK’s founder GV Krishna Reddy. As was reported in Crikey, the two MPs National Senator Barnaby Joyce and Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop were there to “lend cachet” to Rinehart.

Actually, it wasn’t just two MPs. Unreported at the time, but buried away in the register of interests, was an alteration to Brisbane Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro‘s entry. The change, recorded on 7 July, shows that Gambaro was also on the flight from Perth to India and stayed two nights in Hyderabad.

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Coal seam gas less dirty than coal, says company with $580 million stake in coal seam gas

THE Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association has just released the executive summary of a new “independent” report which looks at the climate change impact of coal seam gas compared to coal when both are burned for electricity.

I’m still digesting the findings and trying to get a full copy rather than just the executive summary, which APPEA has made available.

But in short, the report’s summary claims to examine the cradle-to-grave emissions of a type of gas known as CSG (coal seam gas) but known elsewhere as coal bed methane.

Specifically, the report looks at emissions from CSG once it has been compressed into liquid form (LNG) and exported to China. A comparison is then made between burning this gas for electricity using various different types of generators and asks how this compares to coal.

The report claims coal seam gas is a cleaner option or, to put this another way, less dirty than coal when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. Depending on which type of power station is used, the report says coal emits somewhere between 87 per cent and 5 per cent more greenhouse gases per unit of electricity than CSG-LNG gas from Australia.

Forgetting for a moment that gas does still emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases, the CSG industry will no doubt make a big play on the findings of this “independent” report.

What should be noted, however, is that the report which attempts to paint CSG as a good guy was carried out by a giant resource industry service company, WorleyParsons.

Late last year, WorleyParsons won a $580 million contract to deliver “engineering, procurement and infrastructure” to a $15 billion CSG-LNG project in Queensland.

So the “independent” report was written by a company with a $580 million stake in the same industry they’re examining.

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Campbell’s trees blown away by coal

QUEENSLAND’S new opposition leader Campbell Newman thinks that a carbon price is a “very bad idea” and told reporters yesterday that he had a better way to deal with climate change.

Something altogether more practical.

I have a positive, proactive way of dealing with this. I’m into tree planting. I planted 1.38 million trees in Brisbane.

Now that’s a lot of trees, and I’m a big fan of trees. We do need more of them.

But how much carbon dioxide does that suck from the atmosphere? I asked one of the country’s leading providers of tree planting offsets for a “ballpark” figure on this.

I was told that it depends on which variety of tree you plant, but that 1.38 million trees would offset about 370,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and this would take the trees 20 years to achieve. Is that a lot? An average 18,500 tonnes a year?

If you take a formula offered recently by Guy Pearse, author and research fellow at the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, Queensland’s coal industry exports about 100 tonnes of CO2 every seven seconds.

Or in other words, the annual emissions saved from Campbell Newman’s 1.38 million trees gets cancelled out by the State’s own coal exports every 21 minutes. [awkward silence]

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