I’m still writing furiously (in both senses of the word) about climate change, the fire disaster in Australia and the responsibility the entire political right bears for this catastrophe, along with those of the centre and left who have shirked the struggle. Australian writer Richard Flanagan, in the New York Times, has compared our leaders to famous traitors like Benedict Arnold, Vidkun Quisling and Mir Jafar, and that’s a pretty good summary of how large numbers of Australians feel.
Over the fold, links to some of my latest commentary
An Open Letter on Australian Bushfires and Climate: Urgent Need for Deep Cuts in Carbon Emissions from 80 current and former Australian Laureate Fellows (our most prestigious research award, across natural and social sciences and humanities).
Humans are good at thinking their way out of problems – but climate change is outfoxing us (The Conversation)
Invest with the best, Inside Story (the case for divestment)
Neoliberalism is declining, but the Right wing refuses to die
As promised, my article on climate change and the death of libertarianism/propertarianism, in Jacobin.
Global warming is the ultimate refutation of Lockean propertarianism. No one can pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere while leaving “enough and as good” for everyone else. It has taken thirty years, but this undeniable fact has finally killed the propertarian movement in the United States.
There have been Australia Days more loaded with fear and foreboding than yesterday’s (in 1942, for example), but not many. Richard Flanagan’s jeremiad in the New York Times might be overstated, but it’s a lot closer to the mark than our appalling Prime Minister’s suggestion that we should take the time to celebrate our greatness as a nation.
Ross Gittins has a very nice piece in the SMH today, with some kind words about Economics in Two Lessons which he recommends as “the best book to introduce you to economics”. Ross says that the crucial concepts in economics are: Opportunity cost (of course!), the Invisible Hand (roughly, my Lesson One), imperfect competition, market failure and externalities (the microeconomic component of my Lesson Two).
His final para gives the lie to those who imagine economists oppose action to save the global enviroment
As for external costs (“negative externalities”), Quiggin notes that the leading British economist Lord Nicholas Stern has described climate change as “the biggest market failure in history”. So now you know why so many of the nation’s economists are appalled by Morrison’s dereliction.
Looking at our elected leaders, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that we, as Australians, deserve the cataclysms that have been visited upon us in the last few months. And reading the international press coverage of the disaster, this is a theme that constantly recurs.
Yet its less than a year since 49 per cent of us voted for a policy program far better than that of the government that scraped in or the shell-shocked opposition that proposes to wait until 2022 before doing anything.
If it hadn’t been for any of half a dozen largely random factors (Shorten’s personal unpopularity, Clive Palmer’s advertising blitz, Labor’s clunky “big end of town”rhetoric and so on, we might have had the opposite result just as the polls predicted
Of course, a Shorten government wouldn’t have been able to prevent the bushfires, or even mitigate their severity in any way. We would have been a bit better prepared, since Labor promised to spend more on firefighting capacity, but changes in emissions policy would not even have taken effect. And of course, this is a global problem: efforts we make will mostly reduce the damage in other countries and vice versa.
Still, with a tiny but of luck, we would have had a government committed to doing our share as part of a global effort to reduce the risk of future disasters. That might at least have garnered some useful international sympathy, rather than the “serves you right” subtext of so much coverage.
The ash falls on the just and unjust alike. We must struggle to save what we can of the biosphere we have collectively done so much to destroy. And we must accept that sometimes luck won’t go our way.
Back again with another Monday Message Board.
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One of the more tenacious beliefs on the political right is that their support for nuclear power demonstrates superior rationality and openness to evidence. But the evidence is that, no matter what the structure of energy markets no one is willing to choose (new) nuclear power over any of the alternatives: gas, renewables and coal. That’s bad in the sense that the true costs of new and existing coal far exceed those of even new nuclear. But where those costs are factored in to decisions, it’s renewables (plus storage) that benefit.
Let’s look at the evidence. The World Nuclear Association currently lists “about 50” plants under construction, a number that’s been declining over time. A closer look reveals 47 plants, of which 23 are due to be completed this year or next (most are way behind schedule). The rest are due by 2026 reflecting the fact that hardly any have been started in recent years (a typical project takes 7-10 from initial construction to connection, if all goes well).
Adding in those modern (Gen III or III+) plants already in operation, the total contribution of modern nuclear to the world’s electricity generation capacity is likely to fall short of 100 GW, maybe equal to a couple of years of renewables (adjusted for differences in utilisation rates).
The only real hope is that of Small Modular Reactors, but even here the gap between claims and evidence is striking. Pro-nuclear advocates routinely write as if SMRs are an established solution, rather than a design that has so far not even reached the pilot plant stage.
If those on the political right would accept a market solution to decarbonizing electricity, including a carbon price and an option for SMRs, that would be a good deal for the environment. Sadly, there’s no sign of that happening. Rather, support for nuclear power is little more than an excuse for hippie-punching and intellectual self-congratulation.