Guest Post: Peter O’Brien The Australian and Climate Change

The Australian is consistently prescriptive in its editorials on topics such as the economy and terrorism but consistently ambivalent in its pronouncements on climate change and energy. Take this weekend’s editorial, for example, which describes the Finkel Review as recommending a Clean Energy Target which:

rather than penalise heavy polluters, would provide incentives to clean energy generation

Pardon me? By what Green sleight of tongue is providing incentives to one player not penalizing the other?

And why does it persist in referring to CO2 as ‘pollution’ as it does in the same editorial. CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels may or may not be warming the planet catastrophically. We don’t know for sure (but it’s looking increasingly unlikely). What we do know with absolute certainty is that CO2 per se, essential to life, is not pollution. And the increase to the current level of 400ppm it appears to have been beneficial, with a net greening of the earth and record crop productions. The use of emotive terms such as ‘carbon pollution’, adopted by Greens as a useful propaganda tool, is just lazy journalism.

The Australian, to its credit presents a somewhat balanced view on CAGW, mostly per medium of Graham Lloyd, but has long maintained an editorial line that it supports a market mechanism for ‘putting a price on carbon’ and it accepts, without question, the need to ‘curb our emissions’. It has never once, to my knowledge, seriously questioned the underlying assumptions – and that is all they are – that underpin the whole CAGW house of cards. Sure, from time to time it skirts around the issue, hinting here and there but it never takes the final logical step.

Given that it prints opinion pieces by sceptics such as Matt Ridley, Bob Carter et al it is tacitly admitting that there is a debate about the science.

While we are tying ourselves in knots trying to reconcile the irreconcilable – cheap and reliable power on one hand and drastically lower CO2 emissions on the other – surely it makes sense to run the blowtorch on the underlying justification, the theory of CAGW? It’s not as if CAGW scepticism is in the same realm as holocaust denial.

Kenneth Richards writing in NoTricksZone points out that in the last two years there have been almost 120 peer reviewed papers (58 this year already) invalidating the theory. That could be the start point for new editorial line from The Australian. God knows, it’s not going to come from any other mainstream media outlet.

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40 Responses to Guest Post: Peter O’Brien The Australian and Climate Change

  1. RobK says:

    The US EPA deemed CO2 a pollutant which sterilized the CO2 conjecture.

  2. RobK says:

    I might add, reversing that EPA ruling might be the key to unraveling the mess.

  3. Rasputin says:

    Wasn’t it Tony Abbott who proposed giving incentives to industry to clean up rather than subsidising renewables? And wasn’t he the one who was not going to fund more of the same wind and solar but rather fund emerging technology which would not require subsidy and maybe give a base load capacity on any windless night?

  4. RobK says:

    US Supreme Court decides CO2 is a pollutant

    3 April 2007

    In one of the most important decisions in environmental law, the US Supreme Court has ruled that carbon dioxide (CO2) is a pollutant and that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the right to regulate CO2 emissions from new cars.

    The case Massachusetts v. EPA was brought by a group of 12 states (CA, CT, IL, ME, MA, NJ, NM, NY, OR, RI, VT, WA) and a number of local governments and environmental organizations. The court had been asked whether CO2 was a pollutant, and if the EPA had the right to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new cars. The EPA—supported by 10 states (AL, ID, KS, MI, NE, ND, OH, SD, TX, UT), four motor industry trade associations and two coalitions of utility companies—argued that under the Clean Air Act (CAA) it did not have the power to regulate CO2 emissions because carbon dioxide was not deemed to be a pollutant. Furthermore, a causal link between GHGs and climate warming was not unequivocally established, according to the EPA’s position.

    But the Court decided that greenhouse gases fit well within the CAA capacious definition of “air pollutant”, and the EPA has statutory authority to regulate GHG emissions

  5. H B Bear says:

    I guess having the courts rule on science is a step forward from having the church do it like the good of days. They are less likely to kill anyone for a start.

  6. Leo G says:

    But the Court decided that greenhouse gases fit well within the CAA capacious definition of “air pollutant”, and the EPA has statutory authority to regulate GHG emissions

    Water vapour is a GHG. Doesn’t that accordingly make it an air pollutant?
    Even diatomic oxygen has some absorption bands in the infrared, and is thereby a GHG. Shouldn’t oxygen be declared an air pollutant?

  7. Art Vandelay says:

    That could be the start point for new editorial line from The Australian. God knows, it’s not going to come from any other mainstream media outlet.

    I wouldn’t hold your breath. The Australian’s editorial team as well as most of their political commentators demonstrate their economic and scientific illiteracy on a daily basis. They have always been very enamoured with big government policies on climate (regardless as to whether these policies are in the form of an ETS, a carbon tax to a Clean Energy Target) and with the international emissions targets spelt out in Kyoto and Paris.

    They also lack sound political judgement, for example, they even endorsed Kevin Rudd for PM and they are staunchly behind the hapless and hopeless Turnbull.

  8. Nerblnob says:

    It’s not as if CAGW scepticism is in the same realm as holocaust denial.

    That aim has already been achieved by activists.

  9. mareeS says:

    Art Vandelay nailed how the senior editorial floor works at the Oz. Some hit, some miss,, but allowing for rank infestation by cretins and just plain evil liars in the media, the Oz does better than most to put forward credible reporting.

  10. Entropy says:

    I am more fascinated with the belief that “putting a price on carbon” is the solution.
    It’s an externality
    It’s invisible
    It’s odourless
    It’s prevalent in large quantities in nature
    It’s difficult to measure.

    This measurement issue is greatly compounded in complexity through initiatives like trying to measure carbon credits and carbon farming. It’s mostly modelled. What could go wrong? I will not be surprised if Nigeria will become one of the great exporters of carbon credits if an international scheme ever got off the ground.

    What needs to happen to make a trading scheme sort of work is a massive army of bureaucrats and ticket clippers to manage the scheme itself, monitor and manage and verify the credits and permits and emission units to be bought and sold within and across national boundaries, and dealing with market penetration by non participants. While simpler to apply than an ETS, a carbon tax still has the measurement and collection problem, leaving aside the benefit it gives non participants.

    It’s a system that could only be dreamed up by academics and supported by the dreamers, stupid politicians and ticket clippers who see new opportunities to make a buck.

    The Lomborg option of accelerating tech development is the only one that makes any sense, but of course as it does not provide opportunities for a massive system for the benefit of bureaucrats, greenies, academics, politicians and ticket clippers it is vilified.

  11. RobK says:

    The concept of carbon trading was an extension of schemes which successfully traded down other pollutants such as SO2 and others. These were relatively easy to address with the application of known technologies such as scrubbers, modified process and the like and gave industry an orderly pathway to get their act together.
    To expect to do the same when no known proven alternative exists (or the only known one, nukes, is forbidden), is asking for trouble. It requires a leap of faith in what is literally the driving energy force of our civilization. It means you are trying to force development by experimentation with your own life-blood based on a conjecture that CO2 is infact a problem.

  12. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    The current price of UN Certified Emissions Reduction futures is 22 euro cents per tonne of CO2.
    That is 22 cents, not 22 dollars.
    Even 22 cents per tonne is too high, since CO2 causes no harmful global warming.

    I’d love for some company required to submit emissions certificates to provide UN ones in place of RET ones. Then when the government complained they go to the press saying Canberra rejects the UN!
    The screeches would be very entertaining. As would the eventual HC case which, given we’ve now ratified the UN Paris agreement, could give a fun result.

  13. RobK says:

    It’s encouraging to see the futures price being so low as it could be a measure of the risk attached to faith in the system but it’s certainly not the time to ease up. You can’t trust the buggers. I’d still like to know what Al Gore said to Clive Palmer to put us into this mess.
    The low futures price may also just be a reflection of the current economic/political climate. The fight is not yet won and much damage has already been sustained. It will get worse before it gets better.

  14. RobK says:

    A better source and later case, from Wikipedia under Massachusetts v EPA:
    “On remand, EPA found that six greenhouse gases “in the atmosphere may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare.” On February 16, 2010, the states of Alabama, Texas, and Virginia and several other parties sought judicial review of EPA’s determination in the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit. On June 26, 2012, the court issued an opinion which dismissed the challenges to the EPA’s endangerment finding and the related GHG regulations.[13] The three-judge panel unanimously upheld the EPA’s central finding that GHG such as carbon dioxide endanger public health and were likely responsible for the global warming experienced over the past half century.”
    The conjecture became law.

  15. amortiser says:

    Is an Australian RET certificate and a UN Certified Emissions Reduction future equivalent? What Is the price differential between the two?

  16. duncanm says:

    William Kininmonth has a fair rebuttal in the Oz today.. poking holes in Finkel’s climate and sensitivity assumptions.

    It is unfortunate that the Chief Scientist did not conduct an independent review of the science ­underpinning the contentious ­hypothesis of dangerous anthropogenic climate change before embarking on a blueprint for the national electricity market. A misplaced objective of emissions ­reduction at the expense of affordable and reliable electricity ser­vices will unnecessarily impov­erish Australians.


  17. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    Amortiser – Here is a site for local renewable energy certificates that the power companies have to pay to meet their RET mandates. The EU also has certificates – they have fallen a lot too, but not as much as the UN ones. These are the current prices per tonne just now:

    UN: €0.22
    EU: €4.98
    Australia: $37.50 (= €25.21 at current exchange rates)

    So we pay a CO2 emission price more than 5 times the EU and more than 100 times the UN.

    Earlier this year our RET carbon price topped $95 per tonne, which is when one electricity vendor chose to pay the $60 per tonne fine instead of the RET certificate price. Which caused quite a lot of howling in the press.

    We truly have an economic death wish in this country.

  18. john constantine says:

    There is now a controlling voting block internationally, of massively high birth rate countries with economies and societies crippled by totalitarian Stalinism and fundementalism.

    These countries need to access massive amounts of wealth to keep staggering along without completely disintegrating, and sacrificing the gravy train lifestyle of their corrupt and kleptocratic elites.

    So the international votes are cast to latch onto and tax the western taxpayer, to fund the worlds hellholes to breed maximum amounts of cannon fodder for the Big Push.

    If it isn’t global warming or climate justice it will be something else, just remember that your superannuation and your house really belongs to a fundementalist peasant with three wives and twenty children and a burning hatred for you and all you stand for.

    Because social justice and moral relativism and cultural marxism.

  19. RobK says:

    ” It is unfortunate that the Chief Scientist did not conduct an independent review of the science underpinning the contentious ­hypothesis of dangerous anthropogenic climate change “
    Similarly it is not in the IPCC’s charter to question the CO2 conjecture, quite the opposite, it is a given assumption. The root of the problem.
    As it is, this dastardly affair is proving to be a test of our civilization’s competency and we are struggling to apply balanced reason because the conjecture has been captured by mass delusion and possibly ulterior motives.

  20. Dr Fred Lenin says:

    I believe in climate change it was sunny yesterday it isovercast today mtherefore the climate has changed will paying the u,n, ommunists soros , gore and goldman sachs change this ? Do they guarentee more sunny days ? Will the pollies hold a referendum to see if the People agree to being ripped off on power bills ? How are huge . unaffordable power bills going to change the climate ? Will the money stolen appease gaia and persuade him/her/it to spare us ?

  21. Dr Faustus says:

    The Finkel Review starts with a false premise:

    The NEM is being transformed from a 20th century grid dominated by large-scale, fossil fuel-fired synchronous generators into a 21st century grid. New and emerging generation, storage and demand management technologies are being connected into a system that was not designed for them. Older generators are reaching the end of their life, becoming less reliable and closing.

    The concept that there is such a thing as “a 21st century grid” not dominated by synchronous generators, and the implication that this ‘improved’ state is somehow being achieved by considered design and intent – “The NEM is being transformed” – is a purely political statement.

    It is however objectively wrong in fact.

    Having established the Big Lie, the rest of the report is internally consistent with the politics of climate change. Once you have decided to allow synchronous generation to atrophy, Finkel is your man for taking a reasonable stab at essaying the technical stuff that necessarily follows.

  22. Louis Hissink says:

    Obviously CO2 has been deemed a latter day version of Original Sin – I wonder if our own EPA has repeated the folly?

  23. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    The Finkel Review starts with a false premise

    False premises all the way down. Don’t miss Judith Sloan’s analysis in the Weekend Oz:

    An end to the climate wars? Not on your nelly

    And here’s a very important warning: beware modellers who tell you that, in the best-case scenario, electricity prices could actually fall. Tell that to the householders who face power price rises of between 20 and 30 per cent in parts of Australia.

    Garbage in, garbage out is the key reason to distrust the modelling, as well as the riding instructions given to compliant modellers. They are happy to adjust assumptions, often in hidden ways, to achieve the desired result. (Retaining a relatively hefty penetration of coal-fired power stations, operating at less-than-full capacity, is one of the critical assumptions in the report’s calculations, as well as the arbitrary risk weighting attached to the business-as-usual scenario.)

    Look at what happens to the penetration of renewables under the Finkel recommendations: it goes from 16 per cent of electricity generation now to 42 per cent in 2030 — not far off Labor’s holy grail of 50 per cent. It’s no wonder Labor is tempted to sign on.

    Gas goes from 6 per cent in 2020 to 5 per cent in 2030 and to just 3 per cent in 2050 — so much for the CET being neutral about technology. For a country with abundant gas supplies, this is a ridiculous result and is in stark contrast with the US experience, where the take-up of gas to electricity plants has led to falling emissions without any real government intervention.

    That is totally impossible without nuclear power or a duplicate dam on every rivulet along the Great Dividing Range, with pumped storage. Or more batteries than the human race has hitherto built (at a guess).

    Judith mentions the 25% capacity of renewables. She doesn’t point out they are actually 50-100% for some hours then zero for many more hours and even days – coming to an average of 25%. All those intervening hours are either powered by fast response gas, fast response hydro or cause blackouts.

    You can’t have 42% renewable capacity without also having 42% backup capacity. Only 3% gas and no coal at all just cannot work. You can see that Finkel has never worked in the real world, nor Turnbull his boss.

  24. Dr Faustus says:

    All those intervening hours are either powered by fast response gas, fast response hydro or cause blackouts.

    I realise you are not advocating this, but ‘fast response’ is a relative term. OC gas turbines take a couple of minutes to start and stabilize, hydro has a similar latency between gates opening and turbines spinning up to generation speed. Quicker than heating water in a boiler, for sure, but not ‘almost instantaneous’ as with load-following spinning reserve.

    In those minutes, the grid may not go black, but will certainly fart and hiccup – and it will do this regularly, at times almost continuously.

    Nobody has any real experience in operating a power system to a first world standard with the high and unpredictable level of intermittency that will come from 40%-50% windmills/solar things. Hence Finkel’s (sensible) insistence on renewable generators coming with their own batteries, and preventing synchronous generation from dropping off without three year’s notice.

  25. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    Hence Finkel’s (sensible) insistence on renewable generators coming with their own batteries, and preventing synchronous generation from dropping off without three year’s notice.

    That is an unusual definition of “sensible”.

    My prediction – as soon as prospective greenfield power generators start kicking the tyres on new projects with battery back up there will be an absolutely totally surprising lack of projects in the pipeline.

    Until Labour gets in and starts paying 80% of the project capex. Which is about what it will take.

  26. Entropy says:

    I don’t think that word means what you think it means, Dr Faustus. (Sensible)

  27. Leo G says:

    The Finkel Review starts with a false premise

    Finkel has a number of false premises from which to start.
    Here’s another. William Kininmonth tells us that “the IPCC claims ­anthro­pogenic emissions will raise Earth’s temperature to dangerous levels unless constrained”. There is an implicit false assumption that the contribution of anthropogenic emissions to atmospheric carbon dioxide does not diminish with time.

  28. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    Also batteries only last about 8 years.
    So after 8 years you have to stump up a full 2/3rds of your original capital just to keep going.
    Coal plant lasts 50 years, or more with some extra capital.

  29. RobK says:

    Finkel should also be aware that power electronics is far more prone to causing issues of harmonics and transient voltage compared to spinning reserves. Everything is doable but there’s a trade off between cost, robustness, efficientcy and quantity of the product.

  30. Dr Faustus says:

    I don’t think that word means what you think it means, Dr Faustus. (Sensible)

    Entropy/Bruce: I think the word is quite appropriate.

    To date wind/solar have flourished courtesy of a free carry by dispatchable electricity. As a result they obtain the benefit of a subsidised price for energy sent out, without having to contribute to the cost of providing system support for when the wind don’t blow. This is a delight for companies such as AGL, who are growing out their double-subsidised windfarms while the Sun shines.

    Finkle picks this up, and recommends that new generators be obliged to have a fast frequency response capability – in the case of wind/solar, this is likely to be batteries. The outcome of this is that the economics of renewables will be loaded with the full freight cost of reliable supply.

    This has already hit a nerve with the renewable carpetbaggers [Australian, sorry, no link.]:

    “The need for additional standards on new renewable energy projects to support energy security — such as the proposed ‘Generator Reliability Obligations’ — needs careful consideration to ensure they do not act as punitive measures that stifle innovation and unnecessarily drive up costs,” CEC chief Kane Thornton said.


    Grattan Institute energy director Tony Wood said the generator reliability obligation recommendation was as controversial as setting the emissions target threshold.

    Code for: Faaaaark.

    As I noted above, I think Finkle is working off a false premise. But renewables are certainly not going to go away (both sides of parliament are oozing together on this). This recommendation in isolation is undoubtedly sensible if it does nothing more than point out the need to correctly price system stability into the earnings of renewable generators.

    More hopefully, it may give cause for pause in the NEM train-wreck, as Bruce points out at 11:58.

  31. RobK says:

    The battery backup is probably only required for a few cycles to a few minutes to stabilize the grid’s control whilst dispatchable power is summoned.

  32. RobK says:
    Gives a good wrap up of utility scale storage. 100 pages, good charts for comparisons.

  33. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    The battery backup is probably only required for a few cycles to a few minutes to stabilize the grid’s control whilst dispatchable power is summoned.

    From where? The ether? By witches?

    As I pointed out Finkel is aiming at 3% gas capacity and basically zero coal capacity because there’s no way any coal plants would be built under his plan and all the existing ones will be closed, or ridiculously ancient even if kept open.

    It’s madness which makes Parko’s report look almost sane – at least we didn’t close anything under that, just buy shedloads of CER certificates from some place overseas.

  34. memoryvault says:

    The battery backup is probably only required for a few cycles to a few minutes to stabilize the grid’s control whilst dispatchable power is summoned.

    From where? The ether? By witches?

    Don’t be silly, Bruce. The local indigenous First Nations People summons it with a “Welcome to Electricity” Smoking Ceremony. Like they used to before the dreaded white man came and destroyed their Dreamtime Grid, prior to Ernie Dingo fixing it again a few years ago.

  35. RobK says:

    It’s a magic thing.

  36. RobK says:

    At 3% hydrocarbon fuel the cost and utility of the utility will not be anything like what we know it (given no nukes)….and given we have no dams to speak of.

  37. RobK says:

    I note that much of the recommendations relate to setting up a security Panel and lots of reporting monitoring and regulating which I would have thought the half dozen or so bodies involved would have been doing anyway. So it’s another board and more funding, that’ll help.

  38. RobK says:

    Just to be clear, I completely agree with BoN that dispatchable supply must be able to equal maximum demand plus a safety factor.

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