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Ignorant and petulant politicians are leading us to climate disaster

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Rarely have politicians demonstrated their ignorance of the real risks and opportunities confronting Australia than with the recent utterances of Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan and other ministers promoting development of Adani and Galilee Basin coal generally, along with their petulant foot-stamping over Westpac’s decision to restrict funding to new coal projects. Likewise, Bill Shorten sees no problem in supporting Adani.

The media are no better; discussion quickly defaults to important but secondary issues such as Adani’s concessional government loan, the project’s importance to the economy, creating jobs for North Queenslanders and so on.

Nowhere in the debate is the critical issue even raised, namely the existential risk of climate change which such development now implies. Existential means a risk posing large negative consequences to humanity which can never be undone.  One where an adverse outcome would either annihilate life, or permanently and drastically curtail its potential.

This is the risk to which we are now exposed unless we rapidly reduce global carbon emissions.

In Paris in December 2015, the world, Australia included, agreed to hold global average temperature to “well below 20C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.50C”, albeit the emission reduction commitments Australia tabled were laughable in comparison with our peers and with the size of the challenge.

Dangerous climate change, which the Paris Agreement and its forerunners seek to avoid, is happening at the 1.20C increase already experienced as extreme weather events, and their economic costs, escalate. 1.6oC is  already locked-in as the full effect of our historic emissions unfolds.

Our current path commits us to a 4–5oC temperature increase; a totally disorganised world with a substantial reduction in global population, possibly to less than 1 billion people from 7.5 billion today.

The voluntary emission reduction commitments made in Paris, if implemented, would still result in a 3oC increase, accelerating social chaos in many parts of the world with rising levels of deprivation, displacement and conflict.

It is already impossible to stay below the 1.50C Paris aspiration.

To have a realistic chance of staying below even 20C means that no new fossil fuel projects can be built globally, coal, oil or gas, and that existing operations, particularly coal, have to be rapidly replaced with low carbon alternatives.  Further, carbon capture technologies which do not currently exist have to be rapidly deployed at scale.

Climate change has moved out of the twilight period of much talk and limited impact.  It is now turning nasty. Some regions, often the poorest, have already seen major disasters, as has Australia.

How long will it take, and how much economic damage must we suffer, particularly in Queensland, before our leaders accept that events like Cyclone Debbie and the collapse of much of the Great Barrier Reef are being intensified by man-made climate change?

Of that there is no doubt, nor has there been for decades.  The uncertainties, regularly thrown up as reasons for inaction, relate not to the basic science but to the speed and extent of climate impact, both of which have been badly underestimated.

The  most dangerous aspect is that the impact of fossil fuel investments made today do not manifest themselves for decades to come. If we wait for catastrophe to happen, as we are doing, it will be too late to act.

Time is the most important commodity; to avoid catastrophic outcomes requires emergency action to force the pace of change.  Australia, along with Asian regions to our north, are now considered to be “disaster alley”; we are already experiencing the most extreme impacts globally.

In these circumstances, opening up a major new coal province is nothing less than a crime against humanity.  The Adani mine by itself will push  temperatures above 2oC; the rest of the Galilee basin development would ensure global temperatures went way above 3oC.

None of the supporting political arguments, such as poverty alleviation, the inevitability of continued coal use, the superior quality of our coal, or the benefits of opening up Northern Australia, have the slightest shred of credibility. Such irresponsibility is only possible if you do not accept that man-made climate change is occurring, which is the real position of both goverment and opposition.

Likewise with business.  At the recent Santos AGM, Chairman Peter Coates asserted that a 4oC world was “sensible” to assume for planning purposes, thereby totally abrogating in one word his responsibility as a director to understand and act upon the risks of climate change.

Westpac’s new climate policy is a step forward, but fails to accept that no new coal projects should be financed, high quality coal or not. The noose is tightening around the necks of company directors. Personal liability for ignoring climate risk is now real.

Yet politicians assume they can act with impunity.  As rumours of Trump withdrawing from Paris intensify, right on cue Zed Seselja and Craig Kelly insist we should do likewise, without having the slightest idea of the implications.

The first priority of government, we are told, is to ensure the security of the citizens.  Having got elected, this seems to be the last item on the politician’s agenda as climate change is treated as just another issue to be compromised and pork-barrelled, rather than an existential threat.

We deserve better leaders. If the incumbency is not prepared to act,  the community need to take matters into their own hands.

This piece was originally published on The Canberra Times. Reproduced with permission.

Ian Dunlop was formerly an international oil, gas and coal industry executive, chair of the Australian Coal Association and CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He is a Member of the Club of Rome.  

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  • Chris Fraser

    … completely with you there, Ian.

  • trackdaze

    Adani is more than welcome to open a 800MW+ solar instalation and export hydrogen or lpg to india.

    Otherwise it can GGF.

    • john

      Why export Hydrogen?
      How does that contribute in any way?
      Fuel cells do you think?

      • Chris Ford

        Carbon free combustible fuel, AKA energy storage with very low climate consequences. Obviously contingent on having electricity generators (most likely) and/or transport available that can use it, but that’s a bit of a stretch.

        LPG can GGF too. 😛

      • trackdaze

        energy source, displacing co2 rich energy sources.
        Reduces the trade deficit.
        Sure, cheap abundant energy could lead to fuel cells

    • Richard T

      A solar Adani? Yes! Hydrogen? No! Because… Elon explaining the immense dumbitude of hydrogen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFPnT-DCBVs

      • trackdaze

        Thanks for the link.
        For reasons musk explains i agree hydrogen is a dumbified fuel for vehicles.

        Stationary energy generation however marginal is worthy for broadening energy storage options and possibly as an export earner. Particulary so with australia tipping massive amounts of energy into shipping lpg at the moment.

    • solarguy

      I agree whole heartedly with that statement.

  • Ken Dyer

    I found some very interesting stuff here

    http://johnquiggin.com/2017/03/22/adani-with-an-asterisk/

    As John Quiggin says, Adani has a funding deadline in June. They are so heavily leveraged that the mine will not go ahead unless the Australian taxpayer pays in the form of a NAIF loan that Adani does not qualify for. And even then it is questionable. Banks wont touch them as we know.

    Our politicians are hanging in there with unfunded future promises to appease the voters in North Queensland, and will be only too ready to say, come June, “See, we wanted to support it, but because Adani cannot finance the mine, because it would be economically unfeasible, and it will not be built, we cannot help anymore. Not our fault. Please vote for us at the next election”.

    • brucelee

      A dangerous game.

    • Joe

      The QLD State Government are piling in with a “royalties subsidy”…just how stupid can our pollies, Federal and State, really be! I think we need to get Aussie Geoffrey Robertson QC busy in launching a legal action in The UN against our pollies…’Crimes Against Humanity”, says it all.

    • MaxG

      It this were only so… you cannot make rational sense of a chaotic situation.

  • Thucydides

    You have captured so well the incredulity and despair we feel as we slowly realise our leaders’ are almost totally missing on this issue. And this deficiency is not susceptible to reason – they do indeed seem intent on leading our world to its doom. In any other context this sort of behaviour would be diagnosed as a “psychosis” – a mental disorder characterised by a disconnection from reality. It seems as if a collective psychosis has disproportionately struck our political class causing otherwise rational and reasonably intelligent people to become genocidal. If a psychologist (or anyone else) can come up with a plausible explanation for this perversity, I’d like to hear it.

  • john

    As i see it, now please correct me if i am wrong, the construction of the mine has no future.
    Why do i say this?
    Point 1. India under the present government has decided to curtail coal imports.
    Point 2. The value of the product is not high creating a loss situation.
    Point 3 Without support as in input from Government this will not be financed.
    I do not think there is a Point 4 this is a pretty risky investment because of point 1,2 and 3.
    As to the aspects of the outcomes to do with future emissions, the economics of this venture do not add up let alone the other aspects of it.

    • Steven Gannon

      I was doing some fact checking on the Indian coal policy and there’s a catch to it. The phasing out of coal imports will not apply to private companies. The devil is always in the detail.

  • suthnsun

    “We deserve better leaders. If the incumbency is not prepared to act, the community need to take matters into their own hands.” Agree with first statement. What does the second mean? Are we not meant to vote green or stand for leadership ourselves in a democracy? Is something else being suggested? Generally strongly support Ian Dunlop’s statements.

  • Grace McCaughey

    Yes siree. The people must act. We need people like Ian Dunlop and Geoff Cousins and others to lead us to stop this madness, this blindness. HELP!

  • Marathon-Youth

    Whenever speakers justify shutting down nonrenewable energy for alternative energy by bringing up Global warming I ask myself what is in there for these corporations who produce alternative energy outside of profit and I cannot come up with one good reason.

    If global warming is the main reason to switch then bypass profits and make it so simple for the average homeowner, landlord, or business to make the switch and be basically independent of the grid.
    Yes it is that simple and straightforward. For once in my life I would love to hear those who warn us of human created Global warming how I as a homeowner benefit financially by making my home a solar home.

    PS: As for coal its carbon properties are essential in making steel to smelting ore. Without Coal our infrastructure would suffer.
    Petroleum is used in a range of industries including Plastic, Rubber, Cosmetic, Pharmaceutical to infrastructure (asphalt, tar )

  • onesecond

    People really do not understand the severity of the problem. It is very plausible to assume a Permian-Trias like extinction event which eliminated 95% of all species on earth and turned the oceans into one big rotting stinking algae slush if we stay on the current path. What do people think will happen to human civilisation in that case?

    • Marathon-Youth

      If that is actually the case the solution is simple
      Make it into an emergency for people to switch to alternative energy. the technology is already there
      Please remove the profits in an emergency and your comment will be more honest.
      Do not tell me that the globe is doomed while a handful of people become extremely rich and powerful selling that to me.

      • Ren Stimpy

        Noble sentiments, but politics won’t allow it. Not to worry, politics is being bypassed as solar and batteries are becoming very cheap.

        Somebody just waking up from a 20 year coma who knows nothing about global warming would look at power bills and solar costs and returns and decide to install solar, simply as a costs savings measure. They don’t even know they are saving the world from global warming, they don’t care about the profits of the solar companies, they only know that they can save themselves money with solar.

        • Allen Eltor

          No, they’re NOT becoming very cheap. They don’t work, as all South Australia has been finding out.

          Government employees are taking your children’s and your money

          buying themselves yachts

          and barking at you that – don’t you feel ashamed for ”yewsing fire that can make the sky git hot.”

          Only the same class of people who were nodding that ”Oh Yeah that POT is JUST like HEROIN alright, the GUBMUNT SED SOE!! YaW”

          would go around barking such thermodynamically ignorant bullshoot.

          • Ren Stimpy

            It’s fine if you feel that way, but your opinion is not backed by data.

            Here is the the data –

            https://www.lazard.com/media/438038/levelized-cost-of-energy-v100.pdf

          • Allen Eltor

            You’re a hick. And an ignorant government programmed one, at that.

          • Ren Stimpy

            It’s fine if you feel that way, but yet again, your opinion is not backed by data.

          • Allen Eltor

            It’s perfectly fine if you want to claim ”experts” you trust operate under the concept that – it’s part of real thermodynamics that green house gases can warm the planet.

            There’s no such thing as a blanket of refractive insulation between a rock and fire,
            making more firelight leak out of a rock

            they’re making less firelight leak into.

            You’r ”leadership” tells you they think that’s reality based.

            That’s called mass delusion, which is why the people trying to foist the delusional thinking off onto your kids,

            keep claiming some debate is over.

            The only debate that’s over is how much crime your leadership is going to commit using the money that should have gone to your wife and kids.

            They’re buying billions of dollars of junk.

            You can’t secure solar sites. Boys with slingshots can disable an entire metropolitan area’s solar power supply.

            A private airplane full of gravel is enough to disable one.

            Disabling wind power machinery doesnt’ need terrorism: it doesn’t work anyway.

            If it did
            the world wouldn’t have existed in the dark ages for hundreds of thousands of years, with insecure and unreliable solar and wind power.

            Your empire can not rely on there always being good weather.

            It can not exist where boys with slingshots or one group of activists with access to a plane and a bunch of gravel can disable it.

            It’s ludicrous and it’s going to be considered one of the dark ages of science when grown men claim they think relying on the WEATHER

            is as stable as hydrocarbons.

          • Ren Stimpy

            Getting into an argument with a climate change denier like you would be like getting into a fight with an old Japanese soldier living in a remote jungle machine gun pit in 1972. He doesn’t know the war is over and he won’t be told. Probably best just to go around and let malaria take care its course.

          • Allen Eltor

            Whenever you can tell me the name of the law of thermodynamics for finding out the temperature of a volume of atmospheric air,

            you’re no longer a fake, ”magic gais makes the sky git hot’ barking public school ”graduate” who sat in the same seat as your grandpa

            when he was learning about how the govurmint and tv men with bow ties and evurthang had discovered that ‘POT is JUST like HEROIN.’

            He was so stupid he never doubted they had the ”critical peer review” to prove it either.

            Of course that still means you’re so dumb,

            you think magical insulation
            makes more firelight leak out of the rock
            it makes less firelight leak into.

          • Allen Eltor

            Tell us the name of the law of thermodynamics to find out the temperature of some atmospheric air.

            Tell us what the equation is.

            Tell us what each of the factors of the Law stand for.

            Tell us why there has to be another law of thermodynamics to solve the temperature of some air, than for solving the temperature of some water, or sand on the beach that atmospheric air sits on.

            Either tell us or you’re a fraud barking fake too dumb to even name the law of science governing your church’s fake teachings.

            There’s no such thing as insulation
            suspended in a bath of fluids
            around a light warmed rock

            that refracts light away from the rock
            making more come out, than when more went in.

            As ludicrous as you sound, it seems like you’d recognize the futility of that ever being real.

            Either answer my questions or you’re nothing but an ignorant fake.

            I say: you’re an ignorant fake who won’t be able to answer even given weeks.

          • Allen Eltor

            Whenever you think you’re man enough to name the law of thermodynamics to solve the temperature of some air,

            the real scientific world,

            will check your bullshoot.

            When you can’t name that law

            it’ll be final proof what a looper you actually were all along.

            Either answer me and tell me the answers to the questions I asked –

            or YOU – have been PROVEN

            an ignorant, illiterate and innumerate fraud who doesn’t know the first thing about atmospheric energy,

            or even why insulation can’t make more light come out of the rock

            it makes less light get to.

          • Allen Eltor

            Your information comes from Lazard, the international banking scammers. What in the world have you been listening to?

            Don’t you know about the Lazard scandals?

            Lazard-Freres are INTERNATIONAL BANKING SCAMMERS.

            They are associated with FRAUDULENT BANKING PRACTICIES on FIVE CONTINENTS.

          • Ken Fabian

            Your profound misunderstandings and ignorance are no basis for climate and energy policy. Our politicians have ample expert advice and it has been remarkably consistent in all it’s fundamentals – and that advice is openly accessible. Ignoring that advice and slandering those who give it and/or take it seriously may be a civil “right” but for those in positions of trust and responsibility it is dangerously irresponsible and no right at all – rather it is potentially criminally negligent.

          • Allen Eltor

            Your experts told you they think it’s possible for a class of insulating refractive gases spread out in a blanket around a firelight warmed rock,
            to make more firelight leak out of it
            while making less firelight leak into it.

            Your experts blacked out the Southern portion of a continent with their wacko claims that wind power is reliable.

            It’s not. It’s not even secure. If someone decides to disable a wind or solar site you’re just out of luck: they can’t be protected. They’re not secure energy and they’re not inexpensive energy and they’re not reliable energy.

            It’s the proof that you’re having to discuss why your wind power complexes fell off and created a shortage that blacked out the south part of the continent.

      • solarguy

        Remove the profits! So you work for nothing do you. Your not being realistic and as far as you claiming to have common sense is simply a joke.

      • onesecond

        It is the other way round: Some people stay extremely rich and powerful by selling to you, that this is not the case like the fossil fuel and auto industry. Our capitalist society values money more than anything, so green businesses needed to make some as well to even stand a tiny chance against the extremely rich and powerful fossil fuel goliath, that is just how our society is designed.

    • Marathon-Youth

      if earth is facing such a catastrophe why should a few profit from that to such an extent they become billionaires?

      • OnionMan77

        It is called crapitallism.

    • seao2

      Yes, the Canfield Ocean.

  • Marathon-Youth

    One more thing. I would be so glad if a CEO of a Solar company told a conference where I was attending the following:
    “ladies and Gentlemen. the reason I want you to use Alternative Energy which my company will be selling, is that it will make my company and the Shareholders billions of dollars. ”

    “It will make me into a Billionaire and I can give my family the world. In order for me to get filthy rich I want you to spend far more than you would if you used non renewable energy.
    Simply put you will pay more so that I get incredibly rich.

    “Of course I will use the excuse of Global warming so I will feel better when I exploit you and so will you when you are exploited”

    I would prefer that honesty than to dismiss the obvious and sell the sizzle of Global warming.

    • Ren Stimpy

      Consumers do install solar panels on their roof to save themselves money on their power bills over the long term. The consumer saves money AND the solar company makes a profit. Profits are kept in check and solar panel prices continue to fall through the wonderful mechanism called COMPETITION. (There are actually quite a few factors causing solar pricing to fall, including that solar is a disruptive technology – economies of scale will ensure costs fall as production ramps.)

    • Ken Fabian

      Sure people can make themselves rich selling solar, but the reason I want people to be using renewable energy is to prevent irreversible climate consequences. If you are implying the “sizzle of global warming” is no more than marketing then you are slandering the world’s leading science institutions and scientists.

  • Marathon-Youth

    One last comment as this idea that I am presenting takes form.

    Back in the early 20th century a consortium of Petroleum, Rubber and Tire companies worked together to dismantle the American railway system in order to pave the way for an economy based on the Car.

    Decades later they achieved that. In the 1950’s the great American Highway system took off and the railway system that once spanned the nation, became relatively obsolete for passenger travel.

    I tell this part of history because Corporate America deliberately changed our nation to accommodate their business interests. In that sense I see the same corporate world push global warming for the massive profits it would make… for them .

    • MaxG

      And when you then take into account how “smoking (cigarettes) does not harm humans”, and that Exxon had the knowledge of global warming effects in the 60s — which were raised in 1902 already, then one might understand when I say: the root cause of all this sits far deeper than meets the eye.

      • Joe

        Yes Exxon lied and denied for decades about climate change what their own scientists were telling them. Just like Big Tobacco denying the deaths caused by cigarette smoking. We / the world could have been on the road to orderly emissions reductions a long ago if it wasn’t for Exxon. Exxon really are criminals, “crimes against humanity” I say. You have to wonder why Exxon is “untouchable”. Responsible for the Catastrophe at Prince William Sound / Exxon Valdez as well, they fought and won against the big damages bills that they were initially levied to pay.

  • Radbug

    Anna P. declared that coal is “vital” to the economy of the QLD Central Coast. I looked up the Oxford dictionary, “vital” equals essential to life. So, Anna P. is saying that, without coal, Rockhampton/Mackay/Moranbah etc would die. What a horrendous lack of entrepreneurial imagination. Meanwhile, back in Brisbane, young entrepreneurs were parading their ideas for MIT venture capitalists. It’s clear, the people of QLD deserve more than the people who sit in the QLD State Parliament.

  • Allen Eltor

    the next time some quack-0-dynamics barking hick tells you magic gas will make the sky git hot if’n yew yewz fire,

    you tell that ignorant slug to show you that OTHER time in history,

    when warming a rock in vacuum with a fire didn’t get it warm enough,

    so it was then immersed and washed with a frigid bath of turbulent compressible fluids.

    And when THAT didn’t get it warm enough,

    refractive insulation
    was suspended in the bath around the

    firelight warmed rock
    such that less and less firelight reached the rock,
    making more and more firelight leak back outta that rock.

    Tell that lying ther-0-billy fraud to show you that ”OTHER” time in all thermodynamics

    when suspension of insulation around a fire-warmed rock
    made more firelight come out of the rock
    than when more firelight was going in.

    That’ll put the stop to that pseudo-science barking hick’s claims of magic gas making the sky git hot if yew yewz fire.

    • Ren Stimpy

      I can’t decide if you’re Bob Dylan or Sarah Palin.

      • Allen Eltor

        You can’t figure out that it’s impossible for refractive insulation to make more firelight come out of a rock than is going in it.

        • Ren Stimpy

          My mistake – I completely discounted the possibility you might be Chuck Berry. Sorry Chuck. Rock on by the firelight brother.

  • MaxG

    In order to change the political leadership, there needs to be an understanding by the voter that a change is required in the first place. Since the people are generally wilfully ignorant about anything that does not directly impact their daily lives, this change will not come about. More so, the change from the neoliberals to the alternative liar party is not the change required to get the prevalent vulture capitalism sorted, along the with the banks, their usury and debt ponzi schemes.
    As an example: some may whine about the cost of electricity. Yet, many, if not most, and even the ones on this forum, including myself have a hard time making sense of how it all fits and works together. The same with politics; we have politicians, who do not understand politics, let alone govern the country.
    he problem sits far deeper than any topic (inset here) being addressed on its own.

  • seao2

    With ref to: “Our current path commits us to a 4–5oC temperature increase; a totally disorganised world with a substantial reduction in global population, possibly to less than 1 billion people from 7.5 billion today.”

    I, for one, do not wish to live through the demise of 6 billion humans and all the the other species that will similarly perish. Nor do I want to be at risk of being one of the ones who perish. Thus, I regard the likes of Barnaby Joyce and the rest of the pathetic political and business ‘leaders’ as an existential threat to ‘my’ well being. As the dying starts, I expect the public will finally twig who is ultimately responsible, and take expedient and violent action. Whilst I am unlikely to be doing the lynching, there are plenty of others who won’t be shy.