Posts Tagged coal

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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The Australians backing Heartland’s climate science misinformation

A version of this blog originally appeared at DeSmogBlog.

ANY conference worth its salt needs a nice long list of sponsors to give the impression of widespread diverse support for whatever the conference organisers are advocating.

In the case of the Heartland Institute and their advocacy for the denial of the risks of human-caused climate change, their just-started conference for climate science misinformers in Chicago can boast official supporters from as far and wide as India, England, Austria and New Zealand.

But one of the most devoted and long-standing group of supporters for their climate change denial conferences over the years has come from Australia. This year there are four Australia-based groups listed as “co-sponsors” and over the history of the seven conferences no less than nine different Australian groups have been happy to have their organisation’s name hitched to Heartland’s colors.

A mistaken impression could be that there’s widespread support for Heartland’s extremist views in Australia. The word “co-sponsor” gives the impression that these organisations are willing to actually give up money to support.

Yet in at least one case, and probably several others, being a co-sponsor is as easy as contacting Heartland and saying that you agree with them. The reality is that those supporting Heartland from Australia come from a small circle of active and loud free-market idealogues.
Take for example a first-time sponsor, the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance, an organisation launched in May this year by its executive director Tim Andrews. Mr Andrews has spent recent years in Washington being taught how to build a “grassroots” movement of free-market idealism in Australia similar to that of America’s Tea Party movement.
Andrews is a graduate of the Koch Associate Program, a scheme funded by the same oil billionaire Koch brothers who have been pumping millions into America’s climate denial campaign under the umbrella of a “grassroots” Tea Party movement. Andrews also worked for Americans for Tax Reform, which has also sponsored Heartland’s conferences. It’s a “grassroots” movement being created in the narrow interests of the likes of the Koch brothers. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Monckton, Rinehart and a plan to capture the Australian media

BACK in July last year in a boardroom of a western Australian free-market think tank, the extrovert British climate change sceptic Lord Christopher Monckton was holding court.

The topic for discussion? How to better capture the Australian media to help push a right wing, free-market and climate sceptic agenda.

At the time, Lord Monckton was in Australia at the behest of a mining association and Gina Rinehart to deliver a series of talks on climate change and spread his conspiracy theories that human-caused climate change is a left-wing plot to bring down the West.

At one point, Monckton told a boisterous partisan crowd: “So to the bogus scientists who have produced the bogus science that invented this bogus scare I say, we are coming after you. We are going to prosecute you, and we are going to lock you up.”

Lord Monckton had been invited to Australia by the iron and coal mining boss Rinehart, the country’s richest woman with a rising personal fortune in the region of $20 billion.

Hosting the meeting was the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation, a group chaired by mining “Hall of Fame” member Ron Manners to promote free-market ideals and low government intervention.

Manners is also a member of Gina Rinehart’s lobby group ANDEV, which has been joined by the Institute for Public Affairs to lobby for a separate low-tax low regulation economic zone for the north of Australia to make mining projects easier to develop.

It would be safe to presume, given Manner’s background in mining and the make-up of his staff, that this aim to lower government intervention would include any regulations and taxes on mining.

As far as its position on climate change goes, Mannkal’s website only appears to promote sceptical and largely debunked views on climate science, with links to many climate change denial websites which form part of a global network.

The Lord Monckton gathering, posted on YouTube [see UPDATE  below], had all the air of a strategy meeting. 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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Cardinal Pell’s mine of climate misinformation

THE director of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology Dr Greg Ayers must surely possess the patience of a saint or, if you don’t believe in saints, then the patience of my wife who has been waiting for me to fix the hole in the bathroom ceiling for well over three years.

Dr Ayers has finally gained some closure on an issue concerning Cardinal George Pell, the head of the Catholic church in Australia who while believing in saints, doesn’t believe in human-caused climate change.

Dr Ayer’s unloaded his frustrations on a senate estimates committee this week, saying he believed Cardinal Pell had been “misled” by a book called Heaven + Earth, written by Australian climate sceptic and mining director Professor Ian Plimer.

Back in October last year, the Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee agreed to table a letter from Cardinal Pell which quoted heavily from Heaven + Earth to claim there were “good reasons for doubting that carbon dioxide causes warmer temperatures”.

After an early battle with Senator Ian McDonald, who didn’t want to give Dr Ayers time to respond, the bureau’s director finally managed to get his frustrations off his chest and onto the Hansard record. Dr Ayers’ explained how Cardinal Pell’s views on climate change were not only unsupported by the science but in some cases directly contradicted some of its core understandings. For example, he pointed out that Cardinal Pell had miraculously given nitrogen a new physical property.

At one stage [Cardinal Pell] lists greenhouse gases. Included in the list is the gas nitrogen. That is not a greenhouse gas; it is 78 per cent of the atmosphere. You cannot have people out there telling the public that nitrogen is a greenhouse gas, because it is not.

You can read Dr Ayers’ very full response to Cardinal Pell on Hansard here. The fact that Dr Ayers’ response is now there and that I can now point to it, illustrates why he argued so forcefully to be allowed to have his views put on record in the first place.

But as well as being a correction to the cardinal, Dr Ayers’ also critiqued the book which Cardinal Pell had drawn from (Professor Plimer, look away now).

The cardinal I do not anticipate would be an expert in these fields of science, so he has quoted very heavily from this book and the book is, frankly, misleading to all Australians in terms of what it represents.

Why would I say this book is not science? It is not me who says it so much, although I have read it myself; it has been widely reviewed by people in the scientific arena and it has been very heavily criticised for not presenting science but presenting a polemic from one individual. It has not been scientifically peer reviewed.

Dr Ayers’ goes on to describe in detail the great many scientific errors in Professor Plimer’s book. As I’ve personally pointed out many times – including during a face-to-face debate in Brisbane in 2009 – Professor Plimer has never written a peer-reviewed paper on climate change in his life.

Ian Plimer

But what neither Cardinal Pell nor Dr Ayers nor the media coverage has pointed out, is Professor Plimer’s role as a director and chairman with several mining companies, an occupation which he has recently expanded. These same energy-intensive operations are those which would be hardest hit under any plans to price carbon.

Professor Plimer has long-standing roles as a non-executive director with Australia-based mining companies Ivanhoe Australia and CBH Resources, which mainly dig up silver, gold, lead.copper, zinc and other minerals. Professor Plimer is shown in company reports to have earned about $270,000 from Ivanhoe in the last two years. He earned more than $300,000 from CBH Resources over the same period. He is also a director of UK-listed Kefi Minerals, where he recently disposed of 2,400,000 shares worth about $350,000. He has recently taken on the role as chairman of an unlisted tin mining company, called TNT Limited.

Professor Plimer is also a director of Ormil Energy, which is currently engaged in a $3.2 million commitment to investigate coal seam gas and coal mine gas in the Sydney basin, pending government approvals.

But back to Dr Ayers and the senate estimates hearing, where Nationals Senator Ron Boswell pleaded unsuccessfully that Professor Plimer should also be allowed to appear to answer the criticism.

Senator Boswell should already have been well aware of the scathing criticisms of Heaven + Earth, because he launched that very same book in May 2009, a good two weeks after a swathe of scientists had attacked its integrity.

Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald, who is also sceptical of human-caused climate change, was pressing for Professor Plimer’s views to be placed on the record and encouraged Ayers to “go and listen to Professor Carter some day” referring to Professor Bob Carter, another of Australia’s confirmed sceptics of human caused climate change.

Senator Macdonald also suggested he would be tabling an article which recorded how the US house of representatives had recently voted to pull all funding to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Given that the oil and gas industries have been found to have donated more than US$21 million to the current US Congress, should we be surprised that it has now decided to pull the US$2.3 million funding for the IPCC?

The calls for an appearance by Professor Plimer didn’t impress Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, who claimed that all Professor Plimer needed to do to get himself heard was to “publish another work of science fiction”.

While the retort was obviously meant as a joke, there’s no fun in knowing that Australian Senators and the head of the Catholic church seem happy to take their views on climate from that piece of “science fiction”.

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Floods, climate and a “tiny” bit of coal outrage

AS the floods in Queensland and Victoria gushed through homes, businesses and streets leaving tragedy behind, all of that murky water and grime sent moral compasses and other measures of taste and decency spinning and covorting in all directions.

What outrages you, or anyone else, depends on which way your moral, political or ideological compass tends to point. Talking about building dams or the role of climate change while people are suffering could enrage some people while for others, it could simply drift by unnoticed on the media floodwaters.

Greens leader Senator Bob Brown’s assertion that the floods in Queensland were caused in part by the coal industry is a classic case in point. He made the statement on Sunday 16 January, well after the majority of floodwaters in Queensland had subsided but before the communities of Toowoomba and Grantham had begun to bury their dead. Brown said the coal industry should be picking up some of the clean-up bill for future extreme weather events.

Ralph Hillman, executive director the Australian Coal Association (ACA), responded by saying that in any case, the emissions from domestically-mined coal in Australia made only a “tiny” contribution to world emissions of greenhouse gases. If tiny is a postulated 2.5 per cent of the world’s entire emissions from fossil fuels, then tiny it is. But more on that later.

Brown was accused by some, including Resources Minister Stephen Robertson, of using the floods to make a political point. Several mining companies and industry groups including Macarthur Coal, Xstrata, the ACA and the Minerals Council of Australia expressed outrage but some could not pass up the chance to make a political point of their own. Chairman of Macarthur Coal Keith DeLacy branded Brown as “irrelevant to mainstream Australia”.

It was time to pull together, commentators said, rather than start pointing the finger of blame or making political points. Yet in the days preceding Senator Brown’s comments, there had been plenty of wagging fingers.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Spinning a yarn on climate action

ORGANISATIONS across the globe spend squizzilions to carefully construct a corporate image which they think customers and clients will warm to.

Political parties and major  international corporations gather focus groups, engage top communications and image consultants to finely craft the corporate ideal and brand association.

Then, when they think they’ve got the image just right, they spend big on advertising and marketing “collateral” to drum the message home. Catchlines and phrases considered particularly catchy are copyrighted, as occasionally are colours.

So I wonder how the people at ANZ bank are feeling this week after their logo and “In Your World” catchphrase was hijacked by Greenpeace and replaced with”Polluting Your World”.

Greenpeace commissioned economic analysts to look at the investments of Australia’s major banks and found that while many were making sound investments in clean energy and winning sustainability and climate leadership awards, they were doing something else too – investing in coal mining and coal-fired power generation in volumes which massively eclipse their clean energy portfolios.

Bearing in mind that this year, for the second year running, there was more renewable energy installed globally than fossil-driven generation, you would think that the investment profile of institutions which make a play on their sustainability credentials would mirror this trend, or even exceed it.

Unfortunately, according to the Greenpeace-commissioned analysis, this just isn’t the case. ANZ, the study says, has invested $276 million in renewable energy in the last five years but $1.686 billion for coal.

I’ve written more on this sleight of hand over at the The Drum on the ABC. For another take on the Queensland state government’s billboard claims of being a solar state, I’ve been writing in Brisbane’s bmag on that.

Image: Greenpeace

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