Abbott is blindsiding mainstream media on green energy | RenewEconomy

Abbott is blindsiding mainstream media on green energy

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Fairfax’s media flagship has called on Tony Abbott to protect the RET, and then recommended a raft of policies to do exactly the opposite. It’s another example of why the Abbott government’s destruction of a $20 billion industry is and will not be questioned in mainstream media.

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The Abbott government is about to celebrate its first anniversary in power – and one of its most notable achievements has been its ability to close down the $20 billion large-scale renewable energy industry.

tonyabbott_press-150x150Despite its fondness for professing that Australia is “open for business,” the Coalition is pretty choosy about which industries are, in fact, open for business.

But don’t expect the mainstream media to hold it to account.

The paucity of knowledge and understanding about renewable energy has been a constant source of frustration for the industry, and nowhere was highlighted better than by the main editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday.

The poor old SMH, as befitting a left of centre publication, thought it was supporting renewable energy. But, just like the Abbott government, it was merely paying lip service to the issue.

“The government should show it cares about the risks of climate change and accept that the RET helps reduce emissions without changing power prices much,” the SMH proclaimed in its editorial, titled How Abbott should fix Direct Action and save the RET. (our emphasis).

Save the RET?

Sounds promising, but the newspaper went right ahead and recommended the very same policies that would bring about the destruction of the renewable energy industry in Australia – cut the target to a “real” 20 per cent, and include gas in the target.

Do they have any idea what they are saying? As Infigen Energy, Pacific Hydro and any number of other companies have said, slashing the target to a “real 20 per cent” means little large-scale generation will be built.

Including gas closes the door even tighter. That particular policy cocktail, as various studies have pointed out, would present an $8 billion fillip to coal-fired generators.

It is well known that the mainstream papers have lost a lot of knowledge and experience with the dramatic downsizing of the last few years. But this is absurd. The level of ignorance for the newspaper’s signature piece is breath-taking. Are the interns now writing editorials?iStock_000002099178Medium_big_paper_stack

Truth be told, the level of ignorance around energy markets and renewable energy in particular pervades the media, which is why the government and the incumbent fossil fuel generators can get away with the nonsense they do.

This though, extends through the government ranks, as the recent opinion piece by Mike Canavan revealed.

That is true whether the discussion is about the cost of generation of various technologies, the level of subsidies, the need for back-up, the fixing of tariffs, the regulatory protection – even the definition of the renewable energy target.

But the Murdoch newspapers are much, much worse – publishing endless amount of tripe from fossil fuel shills and “economic” experts about the impact of renewable energy.

They enthusiastically include some of this nonsense, particularly from the Institute of Public Affairs, in their own editorials that invariably call for the RET to be ended. At least they are not pretending to do the opposite. Their ignorance appears to be one of deliberate exclusion.

With mainstream media like this, Abbott will manage to kill an industry and pretend he’s saving it at the same time.

As one correspondent noted today: “We’re at a low point in our public conversation about climate and renewables. The only mainstream media journos with more than 5 minutes of background are climate skeptics or cheerleaders for fossil fuels. The sympathetic ones have either gone online or left the business.

And, of course, that’s a prompt for a vaunt for RenewEconomy. With August page views of more than 420,000 (before the end of the month), and unique visitors of more than 150,000 in the past month, more than a few readers – and many within industry – are getting properly informed.

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  1. Peter Lyons 6 years ago

    Sadly, Giles you have captured the situation accurately. When was the last time Fairfax journos showed any depth of understanding of how renewables should be nurtured? ABC radio and TV are not much better. Time and again, Fran Kelly, Chris Yulman and others fail to challenge this government’s ministers over the howlers they come out with. Even the best journalists are usually out of their depth and consequently they let Abbott’s disinformation go unchallenged. What we need is more pieces of the (rare) calibre of the recent Four Corners program…

  2. Warwick 6 years ago

    It’s a real pity that the main benefit of clean energy…i.e. clean air and clean water are almost never mentioned as being valuable rather than arguing whose flawed modelling is more accurate. I guess it’s hard to sell “not polluting” as it’s somewhat intangible even if it is valuable.

    • juxx0r 6 years ago

      I don’t understand why this is almost never brought up.

      It’s not that i couldn’t care less about climate change, but just give me clean air and we can talk about climate change after we’ve fixed the problem.

  3. Chris Fraser 6 years ago

    If you see Nigel Morris’ response to Senator Canavan it could understandably be seen that the Government have managed to boil down discussion merely to ‘outlays’, and forgot to discuss ‘returns’ – although the discussion would never be complete without discussing ‘return on investment’ for any and all energy sources.And then eventually there is a significant discussion about dividends to be paid in the form of climate protection.

  4. Petra Liverani 6 years ago

    Team Australia, huh? How much lower down the ladder can you go?

    • Pete 6 years ago

      Relegation to third world status?

      You’re right about the shills Giles. I only read the letters in The Australian, because they’re not behind a paywall, and some of them (eg those calling for the scrapping of the RET) give the strong impression that they were written by people with an interest in stifling any competition to the fossil fuel industry.

      • Ian Pennington 6 years ago

        I believe that a suitably qualified energy committee should be formed to develop a long term energy strategy with policies for Australia with sensible renewable uptake – this will provide some certainty to investors – unlike the current ridiculous situation that has energy rules changing every time a new government comes in to place. Furthermore the red tape required to develop projects should be reduced, so that investors and entrepreneurs can keep Australia from lagging the world in the renewable sphere.

  5. Pedro 6 years ago

    I even heard Wallid Ali on radio national last night interviewing a former Japanese prime minister comment that Nuclear power was the cheapest form of energy. Luckily the former Japanese prime minister set him straight on that one, but only on the huge costs of an accident.

  6. Robert Johnston 6 years ago

    The Guardian is more switched on to renewables in Australia than the local mainstream media! Sad situation.
    I also liken what the Government and News Corp media are currently doing to the ABC to a form of gagging – clearly they are trying to intimidate them into moderating their comments.

  7. Motorshack 6 years ago

    I’ve made a lot of pessimistic comments here over the last couple of years, and this is a good example of why.

    Even with 150,000 unique visitors each month, that is still only about one percent of the Australian voting population, and many of us visitors are foreigners, so that brings the percentage down even more. In contrast, the mainstream news outlets have millions of readers and viewers. So, it’s not even a fight, much less a fair one.

    In addition, as a retired software designer and former biology major, I am routinely amazed by the bizarrely low levels of education that most people seem to have with respect to math and science.

    For example, I was talking the other day with someone about shale oil production figures, and he suddenly started quoting Nostradamus, as interpreted by some AM Talk Radio host, to “prove” that Peak Oil is just an oil industry PR scam to keep prices high. I was gobsmacked.

    This guy is not stupid in any ordinary sense, but he honestly cannot tell the difference between a bad translation of Nostradamus and the reports from the IPCC. To him they are all just “opinions”, and he finds those of Nostradamus both more appealing and more trustworthy (presumably because Nostradamus was “divinely inspired”). He also home-schools his children in order to protect them as much as possible from atheist-liberal conspiracies like Peak Oil, global warming, and gay marriage.

    In short, if this sort of thing is at all common then we are all screwed.

    • Pedro 6 years ago

      Come on Motorshack, don’t let your frustration with the stupidity of humankind make you so pessimistic. There are plenty of smart people out there doing dumb things, and nutters being nutty.

      If this website gets 150K unique visits/month it would be safe to assume perhaps 500K/ year. If just 1% decided to get active and harass the right politicians/corporations and put their money where their beliefs are, then we have a significant movement that can change the world. It is the 1-2% of the worlds decision makers whose minds have to be influenced/changed, and from where I stand it is happening, just not fast enough.

      • Motorshack 6 years ago

        I would certainly like to believe that you are correct. My pessimism is not some perverse taste for “disaster porn”, as some call it, and I do wind up in the sort of conversation that I cited precisely because I do hope to make some difference over the long term.

        Rather, my pessimistic stance and comments come from the perceived need to avoid understating the problem. There are, after all, a lot of very encouraging stories here on RenewEconomy, and it might be easy to assume that we were making more progress than we actually are.

        In addition, most of the readers here – or at least the ones who comment – are very progressive about renewable energy and climate change, and it might be easy to forget that we are still only a very small fraction of the general population.

        Finally, renewable energy is only a part of the overall set of environmental issues that we face. We could get rid of all fossil fuel use, and still easily have our civilization collapse as a result of our unsustainable agricultural practices.

        For example, over the last few decades, about 40% of ALL agricultural land in the world has become desert. That is a simple, well-documented fact that is widely known in the world of agriculture, but it never gets mentioned here at all, much less in the mainstream press. So, I remain quite pessimistic.

        Sorry to say.

        • Pedro 6 years ago

          You are right, there are a number of looming disasters that can make life on this planet very hard for humans and all other lifeforms. On my list I would rate runaway climate change as the most imminent, then fresh water quality, desertification, some deadly pandemic, nuclear war, yellowstone mega eruption then an asteroid. The last 2 we don’t have any control over yet, so I hope it doesn’t happen. We do have some control over the previous ones.

          Have heard a few things about pollinators and bee’s dying off at some alarming rates. Not sure about the impact on food production with a negligible pollinator population, but would guess at a 50% food reduction we would all be starving within 5 years.

          • Motorshack 6 years ago

            Well, solid points for having some sense of the larger issues. No doubt of that. However, let’s sort out the threats by their real priority.

            The things we absolutely have to have from our world are air, water, and food. If we are lacking any of those then we are dead, without question.

            Let us take air as given, and also water for drinking, cooking, and washing. That is to say, let us assume, for the sake of analysis, that people who lack drinking water could move to some place that had enough. That leaves food as the only real issue, all other things being equal.

            To grow food we need large quantities of water, healthy soil, seeds, and pollinators to set those seeds. Note also that the seeds are quite often the product we are harvesting for food, although the main point is that any generation that does not set seed will, by definition, be the last one.

            And by healthy soil I mean soil that does not need massive injections of artificial fertilizer to grow anything at all. I mean normal soil, with all the usual micro-organisms keeping the nutrient cycles working normally. This is now in very, very short supply all over the world.

            The overall problem is that every one of these factors – water, soil, and pollinators – is under massive threat from multiple sources.

            Certainly climate change is one of those sources of threat, and it is causing multiple problems for agriculture, such as changing rainfall patterns, rising sea levels, and the disruption of both pollinator and crop life cycles.

            However, climate change alone is moving comparatively slowly, and it is not the source of all the threats to agriculture. Not even close.

            The much more immediate threats are those that can become manifest in just a single growing season, such as short-term drought, an epidemic of pesticide resistant insects, skyrocketing costs of artificial inputs and fuel. Many things of this sort are now happening with increased frequency and severity.

            Water supplies are disappearing for a number of reasons, soil is being destroyed in a number of ways, and pollinators are threatened by a number of problems. Some short-term, some long-term, some manageable in isolation, many not. However, in the aggregate, they add up to a huge, looming problem.

            And these things are nearly all accelerating, with almost no awareness on the part of the general public.

            Ironically, it is the developed world that is most vulnerable. We are totally dependent upon the continued success of industrial farming methods, and if they should fail we will have nothing to fall back on.

            In contrast, many poorer countries still get a large fraction of their food from traditional methods, that are not so vulnerable.

            In general, we will all suffer, but that suffering might be distributed in surprising ways. We are not less vulnerable because we know how to make smart phones. Quite the contrary. That technical skill has actually made us dangerously self-confident, and also caused us to focus on something other than the main problem.

            Renewable energy has the obvious virtue that it could let us stop using fossil fuels. However, that very technical prowess might also seduce us into continuing an economic system that is otherwise suicidal.

            As I said at the outset, we have lost 40% of our land to desertification in about 40 years. So, in round numbers about one percent a year, from that one problem alone, and the process is accelerating.

            So, in just another ten years we will be at that 50% level of loss that you mentioned, and we may well have another billion people to feed.

            Finally, the really stupid thing is that much better farming methods do exist, and by that I do not mean organic methods, which are better, but still headed in the wrong direction.

            What I mean are methods that are very sophisticated in ecological terms, and that have been demonstrated to stop and often reverse many of the current threats.

            The problem is that almost no one knows that the problem exists, much less that there are potential solutions.

            Too busy arguing about solar panels and gay marriage.

          • Pedro 6 years ago

            Given that world population will not decrease significantly anytime soon, I take the view that an over supply of abundant clean and cheap energy will help humanity dodge the bullets you have alluded to. Fresh water from de sal, air scrubbed of pollutants, food grown hydroponically under lights. Materials cheaper to recycle than extracting raw resources. It’s a “caves of steel” approach and inherently flawed as it just promotes the ever increasing consumption patterns that got us here in the first place. At best it buys us some time to get it right.

            It is not an ideal fix, I would much prefer that natural self regulating eco systems do the work than a technological driven solution. I have trouble with imagining that it is possible unless our population is a fraction of what it is today. I would guess that a peaceful population reduction would take several hundred years to achieve. Time that we don’t have at the current rates of resource destruction.

            You are right that it seems that half the population seems to be utterly fooled into thinking gay marriage and asylum seeker policy is a significantly important issue.

          • Motorshack 6 years ago

            The problem with the technological approach is that we wind up doing things in the hardest, most expensive, least productive way possible.

            Left entirely to her own devices, Mother Nature will produce far more biomass per acre than any farmer has ever hoped to manage. She does not necessarily produce the stuff that we would prefer, but that is a detail that could be tweaked if we went about it the right way.

            The problem is that nature’s methods are very complicated, and we jumped up monkeys prefer that things be as simple as possible, so we clear cut and plow, which destroys the previous natural system, and then we work our asses off in order to produce a fraction of what formerly grew spontaneously, without any effort on our part at all.

            As one writer puts it, “we struggle to keep alive things that want to die, and to kill things that want to live”, which is to say, we are constantly fighting, at extreme expense, a system that will reassert itself massively, the moment we stop fighting it.

            So, a few people have taken the opposite approach, and have tried a form of farming that mimics the natural biomes of their region as closely as possible. The result has been an enormous improvement in productivity, and a correspondingly dramatic drop in the expense and work required.

            It is quite possible that if everyone farmed this way we would not only be able to feed everyone handily, but we would also be restoring the natural ecosystem.

            Now, here’s the punchline: we might also stop global warming in its tracks (assuming that we also got rid of fossil fuels, or course).


            Well, the world’s soils are currently storing only about half the carbon they normally would, but even that quantity is three times the carbon that is in the atmosphere. So, simple arithmetic suggests that restoring even part of the normal soil carbon content would suck enough CO2 out of the air to solve the global warming problem.

            Again, this is not really speculation. Not only is the science solid stuff, but the farmers who have tried this approach have indeed doubled the carbon content of their soil, and done so in just a few years.

            There are, however, two problems.

            First, anyone who takes this approach needs to be very sophisticated about the biology, and the learning curve is very steep. So, this is a high barrier to entry. You pretty well need a degree in ecology, or the equivalent knowledge, to fully understand what you need to do.

            Second, corporate agribusiness hates this, because there is no way for them to profit from it.

            Specifically, there is nothing for them to sell that remotely fits their current business model. No hybrid GMO seeds, no artificial fertilizers, no pesticides, no herbicides. Nothing. So, they oppose it intensively, by supporting politicians who will write legislation favoring the current high-tech system.

            Now here is the good news (sort of).

            Whenever our high-tech civilization finally collapses and billions starve to death, Mother Nature will finally get the peace and quiet that she needs to start getting the world back in proper order.

            So, in a few hundred years, our surviving descendants may well be living in an increasingly lush world in which all the food they need is there for the picking.

            After all, our paleolithic ancestors lived this way for several million years without any real problem. So, there is no reason that our descendants cannot do the same for the next several million – assuming anyone survives the crash in the short term.

            For full details on this type of farming, check out Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard. He also has some videos on YouTube, which you can find by searching for his name. It’s pretty amazing stuff, and Shepard is an extremely clear writer and speaker.

          • Pedro 6 years ago

            I’ll check out the stuff by Mark Shepard.

            Heard about putting carbon back into the soil in the form of bio char, which I gather once in the soil stays there over hundreds of years. Seems like a lot of work but will read up on it first and check out the website you suggested.

          • Motorshack 6 years ago

            Yes, bio char is one way to put carbon back in the soil, but there is far more to it than that.

            In any event, I’m glad that I managed to provoke your interest. Even among people concerned about global warming and food security this gets a lot of yawns, apparently because people think they already know what they need to about farming. Even I was not paying proper attention until I happened to run across the bit about soil carbon concentrations, and what that might do for the global warming problem.

            Here’s a link to a presentation that Shepard did. It’s on YouTube, but it is really an audio podcast with some static graphics. It runs a couple of hours, but I found it quite engrossing, and it is faster than reading his book, which I have also done.

  8. James Wight 6 years ago

    I’m grateful RenewEconomy is here to tell us the real story, and I think it has made a real difference to the Australian climate/energy debate. Though increasingly I fear it would be more accurate to rename it “FossilEconomy: Tracking the resilience of the old industries destroying the planet”.

  9. Rob G 6 years ago

    The Obama administration is looking to get a legally binding agreement between the major emitters in Paris 2015. Obama is trying to by-pass the ignorance Congress and get the US stitched into this aggressive climate change action plan contract. It has been deemed by some lawmakers as a clever loophole around the Congress and also around the Senate in the short term. Part of this will involve naming and shaming countries that do not do their part. The way things currently stand Australia must be close to the top of that list. International pressure will be heading our way, maybe then the press will sit up and take notice. Remember apartheid? We may soon experience that kind of isolation if the ignorance of this government continues. No amount of misleading press will prevent this.

  10. David Marley 6 years ago

    It is a no-brainer, the technology is there, it requires willpower and government policy to enforce it’s adoption. Big oil and big coal/gas must be called to account and our lease on this planet may be extended if we can cut emissions.

  11. Alan Baird 6 years ago

    This thread is a good reflection of reality. The ABC and SMH generally give a fairly right wing view as dictated by the REAL opinion maker, News Limited (and Bar) with Macquarie et al yapping encouragement. Constant urging selling off the ABC keeps it comfortably milquetoast in its opinions and they rarely upset the applecart, being likely to invite the IPA to come on and explain why the ABC should go. The status of media in this country can be summed up in one word… pathetic. The hard right won’t change and the Australian flock aren’t about to hold the government to account. It may seem cynical to make these comments but they are firmly founded on reality. Always expect the worst of government in Oz and that way you won’t be disappointed. And that’s referring to Labor ‘cos aren’t THEY inspirational in all this! The others are even worse. Alright, appalling.

  12. Bill McGhie 6 years ago

    I have been offering free training in Carbon Management to journos for 4 years now, funnily enough they dont see the need! Same goes for political parties from ALL sides.

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