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Weekend reflections

December 14th, 2007

It’s time for another round of weekend reflections. Feel free to post your thoughts at greater length than in a standard comment thread. Before you do so, be sure to read the discussion policy

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  1. melanie
    December 14th, 2007 at 09:53 | #1

    The other day some awards were given out to people who say silly things. I think they should’ve waited for this one on the Bali summit.

    “The administration refused to contemplate signing on to concrete targets at the Bali talks, saying doing so would reduce the scope of future negotiations.”

    Sounds like the Israel/Palestine peace process where you make commitments, then break them so you can make them again later. Except that here the only commitment is to talk more later.

  2. Hermit
    December 14th, 2007 at 10:00 | #2

    Stern, Nordhaus and now Garnaut (citing Price Waterhouse) are apparently saying we can make big carbon cuts with relatively little pain. I’m not sure unless we swap GDP for spiritual wellbeing or somesuch. When electricity is rationed (perhaps by price alone) and there are half the cars and trucks on the road at any one time surely consumption and production must be drastically cut. The theory seems to be that retail workers will find jobs as solar panel installers and so on. Maybe to some extent but not enough.

  3. Ian Gould
    December 14th, 2007 at 10:58 | #3

    Hermit,

    Or maybe we make the transition over 20-30 years and there are as many or more cars on the road but they’re plug-in hybrids running on renewable electricity and biodiesel.

  4. Stewart Kelly
    December 14th, 2007 at 11:05 | #4

    Radical thinking Ian! :)

  5. jquiggin
    December 14th, 2007 at 11:17 | #5

    Or, as I’ve gone into at quite a bit of length, we could reduce the number of trips and the average length of trips by 10 per cent each, and increase the average passenger load by 10 per cent, and get near a 30 per cent reduction on top of the 50 per cent or so from changes in the car fleet, with no impact that anyone will really notice.

  6. Ikonoclast
    December 14th, 2007 at 11:43 | #6

    And as a nation we could move a proportion of our spending from consumption spending to alternative renewables power gneration and infrastructure spending. In other words move from spraying it against the wall to building what we really need to survive.

    Also, all those soon to be useless oil drilling rigs will come in useful drilling the hot rocks beds and setting up hot rock geo-energy. All the concrete and steel for dams (no longer needed as the rivers are flowing less and the best sites are taken) can go into putting solar, wind and tide powered de-salinators along the coast.

    1,000 metre high solar convection towers on the western plains can make electricity 24 hrs a day (the temperature gradient is actually higher at night) and power towns of 250,000 per tower. I wish to heck someone would start showing some vision in this country. These things are do-able, The physics and the economics will work.

  7. gandhi
    December 14th, 2007 at 11:51 | #7

    Or we just ban anyone who voted Liberal over the past 10 years from ever driving a vehicle again. Sounds fair to me.

  8. December 14th, 2007 at 12:35 | #8

    when you look at the consistent and enduring degradation of land, water and air, you should reach the conclusion that the problem is not in science or engineering. it is in the political structure of oz.

    replacing libs with labs is a help, but kevvie is already playing politics with language in bali, and if the recent warnings from science are right, that isn’t gonna do it. it needs pedal to the metal.

    unfortunately, kevvie can’t press hard. he’s only a politician.

  9. Hermit
    December 14th, 2007 at 12:46 | #9

    Here’s an elementary argument that a smooth BAU transition may be unattainable. Suppose coal’s replacement has a 20 year payback period. That replacement could be wind and solar but with giant batteries or biomass burning for backup. Thus we need to invest or embody 100% of the net energy from constant coal production 2007 – 2026 for 2027 clean energy to replicate 2007 coal energy. This leaves nothing for any other use let alone declining carbon caps or natural depletion. Hence that goal is undoable in the timeframe.

    Of course that leaves out voluntary conservation, efficiency gains and compounding effects. See also the views of UNSW academic Ted Trainer. Therefore I believe there must be a lengthy economic slowdown after the green fuzzies have subsided.

  10. Ikonoclast
    December 14th, 2007 at 13:33 | #10

    I don’t buy the argument that we can’t phase out all coal power generation in 30 years. The economic working life of coal fired generation plants is about 30 years.

    It’s simple. Don’t build any more, starting from now. Let the existing plants generate for their economic life. Ban any more building of the filthy things. Rip into the big visionary projects as I outlined above. Giant batteries and biomass burning are not necessary. See what I said about solar convection towers that can generate 24/7. It’s a big myth that renewable alternatives can’t provide baseload power. With a distributed collection system geographically and across the different types built on an industrial scale, namely solar, wind, tidal and hot rock you can get baseload power 24/7.

    If there is a lag in bringing new power on stream, as there may well be, why then some power rationing must occur. Tough bikkies, it’s a planetary emergency. If some omnipotent power said, “You’re all gunna die horrible deaths unless you do this.” Guess what, we’d do it. And guess what, an effectively omnipotent power compared to us (the physics of the planetary surface, biosphere and atmosphere) is saying exactly that us right now. “Fix it from now or you are all going to die horrible deaths and soon.”

    As Francis Bacon said, “To command nature you must obey nature.”

    We must wake up to that profound truth.

  11. melanie
    December 14th, 2007 at 20:45 | #11

    I hope you guys are making submissions to Garnaut.

  12. Peter Wood
    December 14th, 2007 at 22:10 | #12

    The Garnaut Review is presently inviting people to make submissions on a discussion paper on greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, land use, land use change and forestry.

    http://www.garnautreview.org.au/CA25734E0016A131/pages/submissions

  13. Ikonoclast
    December 15th, 2007 at 00:37 | #13

    I already feel despairing. Every group will be after advantage for their own little sectional interest. Very few can see the big picture. This is where capitalism falls down of course. It’s a system for maximising self-interest not group interest. The group behaves as a ravening swarm under unfettered capitalism. It works while there is room to grow and plunder previously untouched resources. Once the world is full, and all the easy resources are plundered capitalism has no way to move to a steady state.

    We got rich by running down the capital of the world. One example, the Newfoundland cod fisheries were once so rich that when the cod were schooling, men could walk on the backs of the fish. Now the cod fisheries are finished. From cornocupia to marine desert.

  14. December 15th, 2007 at 05:39 | #14

    ikon, relax. maybe it won’t happen. we’ll all be dead anyway. and if things go really bad,really quickly, you may at least be around to say “i told ya so!”

    and don’t say a word against capitalism, that just gets you filed under ‘crank’. instead, ask how to get market forces acting for environmental sustainability. and never, ever suggest that a medieval political system can’t cope with the stresses of a world filling up, and wearing out.instead, say “the government must….” just as though that fulfilled your responsibility.

  15. fatfingers
    December 15th, 2007 at 08:12 | #15

    “when the cod were schooling, men could walk on the backs of the fish”

    Ah, them good ol’ days of the Golden Age, hey?

    But seriously, the global depletion of fish stocks (and it is pretty much global) is, if anything, an example of a tragedy of the commons rather than “unfettered capitalism”.

  16. Ikonoclast
    December 15th, 2007 at 08:58 | #16

    “When the cod were schooling, men could walk on the backs of the fishâ€? The claim is contained in this book. “Cod: A biography of the fish that changed the world.”

    In the 1970s, the taylor still schooled massively along the Fraser Island coast. When the big rollers came into the beach you could see taylor schools packed along the face of wave like bricks in a wall. The sky was thick with seabirds. As soon as your bait hit the water from a cast a fish would stike. Sometimes a seabird would take your bait in the air as you cast. (Assume Yorkshire accent) “But tell thart tu t’ kids t’day and they woan’t believe ya.”

  17. fatfingers
    December 15th, 2007 at 10:27 | #17

    Kudos for working in a Monty Python reference.

  18. Ian Gould
    December 15th, 2007 at 21:13 | #18

    “Here’s an elementary argument that a smooth BAU transition may be unattainable. Suppose coal’s replacement has a 20 year payback period. That replacement could be wind and solar but with giant batteries or biomass burning for backup. Thus we need to invest or embody 100% of the net energy from constant coal production 2007 – 2026 for 2027 clean energy to replicate 2007 coal energy. This leaves nothing for any other use let alone declining carbon caps or natural depletion. Hence that goal is undoable in the timeframe.”

    But most of the current coal-based infrastructure will also need to be replaced over that timeframe anyway and the energy demand to do so is included in current and projected consumption.

    So its only the incremental additional energy demand we need concern ourselves with.

  19. Ian Gould
    December 15th, 2007 at 21:29 | #19

    Ikonoclast – I wouldn’t ban new coal-fired plants.

    I’d just require them to sequester their entire carbon dioxide emissions plus fund offsets equivalent to, say, 50% of total carbon sequestered to allow for the uncertainties involved.

  20. Ikonoclast
    December 16th, 2007 at 06:22 | #20

    Sequestering will never work. Too many technical problems and too uneconomic. It takes a lot of energy to separate, pressurise, pump and sequester CO2. Sequestering is a myth like “clean coal”. And who’s to say the CO2 won’t all leak out again?

    Remember the old adage, “Prevention is better than cure.” Best to prevent the CO2 in the first place by going to solar, wind, tidal, hot rocks.

    Plus these offset schemes are totally dodgy in my book. Most offsets will never be executed in practice. Another dubious scheme promoted by the lurk merchants.

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