At the Senate Committee

The Senate Committee of Inquiry into the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme held hearings in Brisbane today, and I gave evidence, based on the submission I posted a while back. As always, an interesting experience. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the whole event, but the witness before me (operator of a meat processing plant) made the interesting point that, for grass-fed cattle, the methane emissions about which we have heard so much are offset by the carbon sequestration associated with eating grass, which then regrows.

The hearing went pretty well, though there was a minor blowup with Ron Boswell when I said something scathing about the fact that those who rejected the science were had been taken seriously in Australia far longer than in the UK or Europe. None of the other conservative party Senators bit on this one (not that it was meant as a provocation, just a factual observation).

The continuing influence of delusional thinking, when combined with the need to deny any such influence whenever pressed on it, was a big problem for Nelson, continues to be a big one for Turnbull. And given the strength of delusionist defence mechanisms (on view in the thread regarding the fraudulent Climate Coalition) it’s hard to see how it’s going to be resolved any time soon. Unfortunately, Labor is not 100 per cent free of these types, and their influence on policy outcomes, while greatly reduced, remains both real and damaging.

Update In comments, Barry Brook and others offer a pretty complete demolition of the grass sequestration argument. By the time we have eaten the cows there is no net sequestration to offset the methane emissions.

38 thoughts on “At the Senate Committee

  1. Excellent work, Salient Green.

    To see the figures like that puts “clean-coal” into a more realistic perspective.

  2. Thanks Donald. The figures are a bit rubbery, the internet being so diverse, but nothing bar total BS could make CCS look better than CHP.

  3. I doubt that the “demolition” is complete, what grass farmers are finding is that by using rotational grazing systems and soil tests carbon is sequestered and that the addition of legumes reduces methane production.

  4. JQ says
    “By the time we have eaten the cows there is no net sequestration to offset the methane emissions.”

    The most annoying thing is that this has to be proved to some people. To even think that grass growing again after cows have eaten it provides some wort of offset to the methane cows produce is just ridiculous. Some miniscule miniscule offset so miniscule it wouldnt be material.

  5. In reality Rog#28 – to house more cows, more trees are often cleared so no amount of legumes or rotational grazing system is going to replace the cleared trees.

  6. Nothing except trees. Why plant legumes when they might be able to plant trees? (on a corner of the property).Let the cows graze but keep some trees. The only unviable thing about this is when Mr Coles and Mr Woolworths control the meat wholesale prices and push the price of meat down so far that farmers cant afford a few extra trees. This is when it gets complicated and even legumes wont do it (cant afford legumes or rotational crop grazing – meat is such a low buying price you have to put as many cows on the land as you can). Solution break up the Monopsony buyers. If only we had teeth in the ACCC.

  7. Alice, rog I think is the only one above who appreciates that what is at issue here is not the carbon IN the grass, but the carbon residue that is deposited in the soil through the process of plant growth. Some large claims have been made about this, for example Dr Christine Jones of Armidale thinks that Australian rangelands could sequester the entire world output of carbon. We had a look at the issue at LP back in March with a link back to an earlier thread.

    As I see it there are limitations as to how much carbon the soil can store unless you insert it as biochar. The limits are possibly 3% in most soils or up to 7% in peat soils. All soils used for grazing would have some stored carbon, so there are problems about how you would measure the carbon stored and cost of a certification system.

    Moreover, you can’t guarantee that a subsequent land use might not let it all out again.

    I think methane is usually measured on a 100 year view. Barry Brook points out that it is much more potent on a 20 year view, so how much meat we eat and grow is of unrecognised importance.

    BTW I was at the Brisbane hearings all day until about 5pm when Energy Developments reckoned the public shouldn’t hear what they had to say. Our John Quiggin did well, and so did the meat guy, Brad Teys of Teys Bros. My main impression was that some of the energy producers who were worried about sovereign risk in financing new developments would be even more worried after seeing how our pollies carry on.

  8. 32#Thanks for the link Brian. I think I learnt something there (sort of??) but I worry that some will just see carbon credits as a way to fiddle the books (plant a small patch of lupins next to the back verandah and claim a tax credit?). Some useless initiatives and some exploitation of the legislation is bound to arise – hotshot loophole accountants and finance experts being what they are – not that we should abandon the whole scheme lest we lose the useful initiatives.

  9. Alice, you are right about trees storing more carbon than grasslands of course. From one of the posts at the end of Barry Brook’s link @ 2, grasslands store 0.4 to 3.8 tonnes per hectare above the ground and 30 tonnes below. The equivalents for wet tropical forests are 130 and 213. All other forests and woodlands are somewhere in between.

    Far fewer hectares are required to produce cereals, fruit and veg rather than meet, especially beef. But not all land is suitable for intensive farming and people, given the choice, will increasingly eat beef. I imagine, though, that if the true cost of methane emissions from beef are included it will be very expensive and become a niche product for the wealthy.

    One of the Teys Bros man’s big points at the hearings was that in Australia our beef producers are 60% more efficient than Brazil because of better genetics and better grasses. In the CPRS it’s only the larger abattoirs (those that produce 25k/t of beef pa) that get caught up in the CPRS. Teys abattoirs are all big because they’ve closed their less efficient small ones. Our major export competitors will be outside any such scheme for the foreseeable future with the possible exception of the US.

  10. re: #33 carbonsink (& others earlier)

    The cows & methane thread is good; I don’t want to hijack it into CCS. If this post is too OT, feel free to dump it.

    I mentioned Hansen, Chu, and Oxburgh. I’ve heard Hansen talk and had dinner with him, i.e., plenty of chance for questions and discussion. I’d say he’s pretty astute on solutions, but that’s just an opinion. Lord Oxburgh I’ve known for years, and he’s definitely astute on such things. I don’t know Chu, but know many who do. I am unable to trivially dismiss these folks, as they are all concerned about CO2&energy and all smarter than I.

    Coal CCS is locally way more important for Australia than here in Northern California.

    Coal CCS is of global interest to me, i.e., how do we plausibly reduce global CO2 emissions as fast as (technically and politically) possible. Having grown up in coal country, I’d personally be happy to see coal disappear overnight, but that would mean the lights go out for a lot of people, including most of Oz.

    Coal vendors are playing chicken, I think. If they really thought they had a choice of total shutdown vs CCS, they’d get very excited about CCS, but if they think the choice is between CCS and Business As Usual, they prefer the latter and lobby/advertise to keep it that way. I make no claim to understand Oz politics, but so far, they seem to be successful, or Oz might look a little more like:

    Northern California, i.e., primarily PG&E uses very little coal, ~2%, primarily from existing long-term contracts.

    We basically don’t have coal plants around here, I doubt any more will ever be built. I’m not sure if we’ll later do CCS for some of the (newer) gas plants, or try to phase them down in favor of pure renewables. We have some of the cleanest electricity in the US, but of course, it’s nowhere near good enough.

    The US has 3 decades of history of getting CO2 from wells and other sources, compressing it, and piping it to oil fields for enhanced oil recovery by oil companies who *pay* for the CO2. There are ~3,600 miles of pipelines, although the current ones are certainly not big enough to handle 1GW coal plants.

    Here is a 2007 Report on CCS for US Congress for serious discussion. Note that people think about pipelines, not railroad cars full of liquified CO2.

    In the US, CA is one of the better analogs to Oz, at least in climate and water issues, except for Oz being so dependent on coal.

    CCS for coal plants is no magic panacea, and geography matters a lot, as do local economics. What works one place may be irrelevant somewhere else. It is certainly awkward for Oz that the more plausible storage areas are in WA.

    Nobody I know that is actually *serious* about real coal CCS R&D thinks that one can or should even try to do this everywhere or even most places.

    They tend to think about:

    a) Not building another coal plant, i.e., going all-out on energy efficiency and renewables.

    b) Looking at the entire portfolio of power plants, including plant age/efficiency, reasonable local alternatives, whether it is mine-head or uses coal shipped in, etc, etc.

    c) Looking at the plausible places that:
    1) actually *want* CO2 (oil fields) or
    2) that could at least store it safely, i.e., maybe saline aquifers.

    d) Then, figuring out the best combination of BAU, CCS, or shutdown, over decades. If you *want* to build new coal plants, by all means, do CHP – I’m a big fan of Tom Casten and Bob Ayres on that. The real problem is the large installed base of existing coal plants, transmission facilities.

    In some places, without CCS, it is a choice of BAU or shut-down, and it will be very hard to get shut-down. Oz certainly could do {solar, wind, nuclear}, unlike some places, but it takes a while to do this, even assuming the political will exists.

    Coal vendors seem to like the *idea* of CCS to let them keep on with BAU, but as far as I can tell, they don’t necessarily *want* CCS to work, because they might actually have to do it sometimes.

  11. John Mashey, of course no one thinks about CO2 liquid in terms of train carriages but it is a good analogy and people should think about it that way at least once in their lifetimes to appreciate the volumes involved.

    The problem of course is the system, where an essential service has been sold off to the greed of profit makers who rely on volume of sales for those profits. There is no incentive to actually reduce the amount of electricity sold.

    I have read that business generally requires a 2 year payback time for energy efficiency measures. If that is true, the culture needs to change there as well.

    By far the best way to deal with GHG emissions is to not burn FF in the first place and energy efficiency does that. You don’t need to build a new power station to capture waste heat so I don’t understand why the choices you gave as being on the minds of power companies didn’t include CHP.

  12. I’ve just done a quick browse of waste heat recovery system and was surprised to find so many Rankine cycle systems to turn waste heat, from 75F upwards for direct electricity generation.

    This is a mature technology and it beggars belief that power companies are not using it let alone every other industrial process that wastes heat, aluminium smelting coming instantly to mind.

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