Any old excuse will do
Not so much “I can change your mind about climate” as “I will think of anything I can to reject the idea we should be doing something about it.” The documentary and the Qanda program that followed on ABC TV last night took us through the fall gamut of reasons not to act: the climate is not changing, the measuring stations are not reliable, the climate is changing but it always has, we don’t know how much humans are contributing, we can’t predict the future, the climate is changing and it’s our fault but there’s nothing we can do about it, we can afford to wait 20-30 years before acting, and finally, we should only do R&D but not deploy any technologies “until they are ready.”
The rich rewards of delay
Is there a common theme in these stances? Of course, and the last few give it away, it is all about delay, and how vested interests can profit from it. Or, as Minchin put it, not destroying the economy. “Long may it continue,” Minchin wrote about the climate debate in today’s Age newspaper. As the International Energy Agency concluded in its World Energy Outlook last year, there is about $1 trillion at stake a year for the fossil fuel industry, so each year that the decarbonisation of the energy industry is delayed is money in the pocket of the coal and oil extractors. Which is one reason why their defacto spokesman Bjorn Lomborg, having abandoned the “climate change is crap” approach, now suggests spending $100 billion a year on R&D and to wait 20-30 years until the “right technology” has been found. If $100 billion can protect $1 trillion, then that’s an easy bet.
Palmer gets crash course in risk management
The implications of the IEA warning that to best avoid the worst impact of climate change would require decisive action by 2017, quickly dawned on Clive Palmer, who said that would mean that the massive mines he is planning for the Galilee Basin would be forced to close a year after opening in 2016. Well, it might not happen as quickly as that, but it is quite clear that the issue of climate risk is looming ever larger for the financiers of individual projects, or even in listed entities. A large part of the valuations of many of the biggest companies on the ASX, the FTSE and other major indices are heavily dependent on the fossil fuel resources that are not yet exploited. Never has the issue of stranded assets been so compelling.
Palmer and Minchin love solar
Well, that’s what they said. Both Palmer and Nick Minchin said they would support solar over coal if it ever become cheaper. Here’s the good news: it already is. As McKinsey & Co point out in this story, solar is already, or is about to be, cheaper than fossil fuels in four out of five key global consumer markets – off-grid, remote grid, residential and commercial, and peaking power. By the end of the decade, say McKinsey and the governments of India and China and the US, and just about everyone else, utility based solar will also be cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives. Here’s another predicted cost curve from the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US. It’s their predictions for 2015.
Palmer’s concerns for the Third World are well placed
Palmer expressed deep concern about the needs of the 2 billion people that do not have access to energy. But coal is not the answer, because if it was that cheap, then they would already have it. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is little chance that the hub and spoke, centralized energy systems based around fossil fuels will be replicated in these developing countries, because as HSBC, McKinsey, the IEA and just about everyone else who has looked at the issue in the last 12 months conclude, it is cheaper to deliver clean energy such as solar to many of these countries, and there is less need for expensive infrastructure. This Bloomberg article gives a clue. It’s a relief that technology – its deployment, not solely its R&D – will effectively take many of these fateful decisions out of the hands of politicians, too many of whom, like Qanda, clearly think that it remains a 50-50 debate.