The worst case is happening

A couple of years ago, I published an article on why “extremely unlikely” climate events matter. The central point was that climate outcomes with a probability of 5 per cent or less (“extremely unlikely” in IPCC terminology) were still much more likely than risks we take seriously in our daily life, like dying in a car crash). As an illustration, at the time the piece was written, it seemed less than 5 per cent probable that, within two years, many countries in the world (including Australia) would see catastrophic fires on the scale of those that have actually happened.

I made this point in an interview for an ABC story on economists’ views of the likely costs of 3 to 4 degrees of climate change. Most of those interviewed agreed with me that the costs were likely to be much higher than suggested by economics Nobelist William Nordhaus (with whom John Horowitz and I had a debate in the American Economic Review quite a while ago). We pointed out, among other problems, that a paper he had co-authored implied an optimal July temperature of -146 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nordhaus declined an interview, but his viewpoint was represented by Richard Tol. Longstanding readers will remember Tol as a commenter here who eventually wore out his welcome.

The other point I made in the interview was that the abstruse debate about discount rates central to much of the debate between Nordhaus and Nicholas Stern has turned out to be largely irrelevant. The premise of that debate was that the costs of unmitigated climate change would be felt decades into the future while the costs of mitigation would be immediate.

As it’s turned out, the costs of climate change have arrived much sooner than we expected. And the only mitigation options adopted so far have been low cost or even negative cost choices like energy efficiency and abandoning coal (more than justified by the health costs of particulate pollution).

That doesn’t mean discount rates are completely irrelevant. If we manage to decarbonize the global economy by 2050, benefits will keep accruing well after that. But even if we stopped the analysis at 2050, we would still have a substantial net benefit. The likely cost of near-complete decarbonization now looks to be less than a two per cent reduction in national income. Reducing the frequency and severity of disasters like the bushfires will more than offset that.

88 thoughts on “The worst case is happening

  1. I do think that the idea that our actions are pointless has great potency and leads to voters making other issues the decider; why vote for Labor on climate if we think they won’t do anything decisive and will probably give us insignificantly more than the less that the LNP is doing and offering? What kind of leaders WANT us feeling helpless and hopeless in the face of a global problem of unprecedented scale in order to make their self appointed job of avoiding having to act in the face of it easier?

    The whole “Only 1.3% (for 0.3% of population)” is not just a variant but a potent and effective marketing meme.When it comes down to it these dangerous clowns WANT international agreements on climate to be weak and ineffective and would welcome a complete break down. I really believe they are pleased and even feel vindicated when India and China commit to more dependence on coal; preventing worse case emissions scenarios by substantive criticism or by commitment to strengthening international agreements and raising the bar is not any part of their thinking.

    Australia’s mainstream leaders don’t understand the climate problem or accept it’s seriousness – and that ignorance is their shield against any shame.

  2. mrkenfabian, LibLab are not leaders. They go where they are led, and that is not by voters. They, like political players most elsewhere, are led by moneyed large vested interests outside the political charade on view. The moneyed vested interests one way or another by donations, and sticks and carrots, see to it that the likes of the always compromised LibLab do as directed. Those vested interests are in turn controlled by just a few ultra wealthy parasites. They apparently don’t know that they are parasites, or don’t care, for where they are now rapidly leading their host, humanity, is to an eventuality that shall also extinguish the parasites themselves.

  3. Last nights 60 minutes on the fires was impressive and to the point. I suspect that the media tide has changed, in today’s papers *Bolt has (apparently) turned crying

    “We sceptics can’t go on like this. These bushfires demand we all stop pretending and face the facts.

    And, yes, it starts with me.

    So I admit: the planet has warmed.

    I admit: this warming could affect a lot of people.

    I admit: man’s emissions probably play some role.

    I admit: the Liberals’ response has been hopeless and MUST change.”

    *Bolt is a dreadful liar so this capitulation is probably without value.

  4. Iconoclast, My proposal is coherent. The coherency is based on the philosophy of taxing the consumption of carbon, not its production. This recognizes (i) That we cannot directly determine the input choices in the energy sector of other countries and (ii) that in political economy terms we cannot discriminate unfairly on our manufacturers by taxing them for their carbon usage but exempting their foreign competitors. The sting in the tale of the proposal is that it encourages other governments to emulate carbon control policies since then avoid paying our import taxes.

    Of course, Australia vis such a small player here that we will not drive the climate policies of China but the US might. Greg Mankiw has recently promoted the same policies for the US.

    The main idea of the proposal is to dispense with the deluded and confused idea that we should hinter coal exports. These hopefully will dwindle as other countries make new energy choices. No-one in Australia has ever seriously entertained limiting the exports of our second most valuable export. Nor will they. Australia is not the only country exporting coal and such restrictions would make very little difference to global coal consumption.

  5.  And do we need to crowdfund an answer for John Quiggin 3:52 pm… 

    “…but all I need is a defensible upper bound for cost of stabilization, and a defensible lower bound (more than 2 per cent) for cost of inaction”…

    …so we can shut Scomo up.

    paul walter at 5:51 pm  your comment has been on my mind…

    . ..” or why the other presenter, was so desperate to prevent Cheryl Kernot from raising the issue of water policy the night before. She said it would be discussed by Fanning last night, yet THE most obvious question was ignored.

    “Some body- anybody- help me out with this.”

    I almost cannot watch even the abc anymore Paul (except mad as hell).

     If I, and many others are able, during the course of an interview, to manage to know THE question which needs asking and the presenter doesn’t, all I can say, which I assume you know, is: Kulcha and fear. And lack of protest.

    Kulcha. Aunty bashing and funding and faux balance forced into aunty by idealogues in power

    Fear. Fear of losing my job so I will toe the “new” editorial guidelines of bullsh*t balance. Or in the words of M Mann – “so open your brain falls out”.

    Protest: although active in supporting renewables etc I have only been to one climate protest. Next time – my small family and I will be waving in the crowd of protesters. Note: I will be less than 1.3%.

    It has taken 20yrs for this to happen to the abc. It will take another 20 for ruperts dinosaurs, conservatives and board to to be asked THE question; why did you do it?

    And +1 to “John Kane, dead right.
    The Thwaites Glacier will fix ’em.”… and the next generarion.

    Svate thanks for picking up on kelp *desert*. Tim Flannery may need to update kelp as sequestration???

    Ikon… guest interviewer on abc ontology dept, always with THE questions… “What is a “market”? What is “THE market”? What is “rational”? In what context(s) is a choice rational or irrational? What is a “choice”? Is a “choice” always a choice or is it sometimes something else, like an imperative?”. 

    Thanks all.

  6. Write, write, write…

    The recent bushfires, drought, coal-lition shenanigans etc have shifted my anger, dispair and talk towards asking for specific detail to be made available in the mainstream media. 

    Fornexample, no one has spoken of fungus. “and microbes residing in the soil and deep subsurface (≈100 Gt C)”

    I wrote this morning…

    Subject: Nightcap oak & fungal symbiosis

    Hi. Thank you for your important knowledge and, for going on the public record.

    In today’s smh you stated…”had likely killed at least 10 per cent of the world’s only wild stand of nightcap oak.”..

    So much news coverage has been given to above ground terrestrial biota due to devastation by fires.

    Would you please ask a micologist colleague to detail the effect on fungus and microryzome to cover the whole system.

    * … “Dr Kooyman, however, said recovery work would need to be more systematic, not least because the rescued cuttings did not appear to be propagating, and were collected “under duress” as the fire approached and didn’t reflect the genetic diversity of the oaks.”… or the fungal or bacterial support or lack thereof.

    Publications such as this below, are not imho, differentiating between germination/seedling, vs mature tree in a pristine/degraded ecosystem. 

    “A novel plant-fungus symbiosis benefits the host without forming mycorrhizal structures

    “We show that the fungal partner does not colonize plant roots; hyphae are localized to the rhizosphere soil and vicinity and consequently do not transfer nutrients located beyond the rhizosphere.”**

    So considering;
    “Above ground biomass (≈320 Gt C) represents ≈60% of global biomass, with below ground biomass composed mainly of plant roots (≈130 Gt C) and microbes residing in the soil and deep subsurface (≈100 Gt C).””…
    https://www.pnas.org/content/115/25/6506

    And “Lowest soil moisture on record…
    “Average soil moisture across Australia for the 2018–19 financial year was the lowest on record. The national average soil moisture in the top 100 cm was only 8.5%, lower than the previous record of 8.7% in 1914–15 and well below the long-term average of 12.0%.”…
    http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/updates/articles/a034.shtml

    My question and plea is;

    Please publish in the media – pref abc- what effects the prolonged drought and fires have done to below ground biomass, focussing on the role of bacteria and fungus.

    Thanks in anticipation,…”

    ** https://scholars.latrobe.edu.au/display/publication38464

    *
    https://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/immortal-clones-plea-for-recovery-plan-to-aid-ancient-rainforests-20200209-p53z3f.html

    I will protest publically now.

    I will write to the experts and gatekeepers more often.

    I will encourage others to do the same.

  7. Nothing confused or deluded about hindering coal exports, beginning with a moratorium on new mines as a response to climate risk. I think it will make a difference to the future energy choices of nations that have coal power dependent on imported coal. I agree with Ikonoclast – add consistently rising carbon pricing at the minehead and let the market decide.

    But opposing carbon pricing, especially where it directly impacts producers – as it must, either directly or indirectly to be effective in global emissions terms – is absolute within our current LibNatLab dominated governments, so it is unlikely to be applied. Let alone without loopholes, exceptions and compromises that make sure it is ineffective… which becomes the basis of arguing the pointlessness of carbon pricing, so don’t bother.

  8. As for carbon pricing, why is Barnaby Joyce being given a free ride in MSM for NOT wanting huge TNC’s like Exxon paying rent?

  9. Thanks akarog,
    ““ As to whether or not temperature rising is faster on land”
    It is, for the S hemisphere the anomaly is +1.32C on land and +0.64C for a combined average of +0.74C.”

    Sure, depending on where and what is measured. Those temps are for an entire hemisphere, not for regions during new killer heatwaves, or new and persistent killer hot water currents like some 6°C reported off southern Tasmania. On land people now regularly die during record summer heatwaves in southern Australia while concurrent temperatures may remain cooler than average for people in coastal Queensland.. Average hemispheric temps may not be hemisphere wide dramatic killers… yet. (Is there an equivalent killer on land to ocean acidification? How is that going both globally and locally?)

    “90% of excess heat in the Earth’s system is absorbed by the ocean” – .ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/201913
    The 2019 global average ocean surface temperature increase was ~81% of the increase for land and ocean combined (0.77°C / 0.95°C), yet the oceans comprise ~70% of the planet surface… I’m not sure what to make of this, if anything.

    As to more from your earlier comment, “it is more likely that the climate on land will be more extreme than that of the ocean and very likely more extreme than the average”, parts of the ocean have it more extreme already, but then average extremes are always less than some of the localised extremes. Moreover, “Warming trends in the ocean are likely to continue even if global average surface temperatures stabilize, the authors noted.” – https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/news/ocean-heat-content-rises

  10. Harry Clarke,

    Your suggested policy is economically and politically coherent within the current global mixed economy and associated global geopolitics. I agree with that but it is not environmentally viable. I’ve long advocated a carbon tax and carbon tariffs myself. However, given that we didn’t get a carbon tax or other viable carbon price twenty years ago when we urgently needed it, the situation is much more dire now.

    I don’t accept that Australia is so dependent on thermal coal exports that it can’t do without them. We should rapidly phase out thermal coal exports and take the moral high ground on this issue. I suspect most of the lost profits would belong to overseas corporations anyway and have relatively little effect on Australia’s economy.

  11. akarog says at 8:18 am
    “*Bolt is a dreadful liar [ good wordsmith] so this capitulation is probably without value.”

    Bolt’s admission is for his attack, and is a negative;
    ” the planet has warmed slightly over 100yrs”
    ‘Yes, this warming may hurt some people but many more may gain, not just Siberians”

    If your brave or foolish, read the last para on this image of his column below.

    We need JQ’s “…but all I need is a defensible upper bound for cost of stabilization, and a defensible lower bound (more than 2 per cent) for cost of inaction”…
    …so we can shut Scomo & Bolt up.

    Read the culture warrior drivel here – better to write a letter.
    http://loonpond.blogspot.com/2020/02/in-which-dog-botherer-and-bolter-crap.html

  12. Thanks for you kind words, KT2.

    What you said heartened me, The ABC and SBS are like dancing bears in a circus, once free and proud, now just apathetically shuffling about psychological leg irons to a dull tune.

    I saw just enough of Backsliders on Sunday to appreciate Kathrine Murphy, but the three blokes were a disgrace, hoeing into Adam Bandt for suggesting we should not support big business at its worst moments. The world is lurching into severe difficulties, but business must remain whatever including as to its own responsibilities, a scared cow on its shiny pedestal and throw the person in jail who does not worship it reverently.

    So tired of sleek preppies who would die if they breathed real air instead of the stuff that comes out of the air conditioning.

  13. We don’t need a fancy model to meet JQ’s “more than 2%” test. The CIA World Factbook gives gross world product in 2017 as $80 trillion nominal. In 2014 the OECD estimated the health cost of outdoor air pollution for its members plus China and India as $3.5 trillion. A full energy transition eliminates almost all of this (the exception is tire and road dust). 3.5/80 = 4.4%. Good enough for a QED.

  14. You know KT2, I wonder how long before (if ever) the country, the nation wakes up what the Pilliga gas deal involving Santos, Berejiklian and Morrison actually involves…

    It seems, in Australia, that ALL roads lead to Narrabri when it comes to resources perversions

  15. Would you believe I have been censored out at “The Drum” from any mention of this article.

  16. Paul, how come you have been “censored”?

    And “It seems, in Australia, that ALL roads lead to Narrabri when it comes to resources perversions”.

    I think taking ground water will be a long term disaster in the pilliga besides coal climate effects.

    But all roads for Canavan lead to qld… and a job with Adani…

    “He noted there was “a surplus already in north Queensland”. The Australian Energy Market Operator (Aemo) noted in 2018 there was an “energy surplus” in north Queensland, and “further large-scale generator connections are unlikely to be efficient in north Queensland until existing thermal generation in central Queensland starts to retire” in the 2030s.

    “He said the principal proponent of the Collinsville development within government, the former resources minister Matt Canavan, was “a Queensland senator” and might be pushing the development as a means of attracting new jobs to Queensland.

    “But he queried who the customers for the power might be, given the energy surplus, and he speculated the principal customer might be Adani. “There must be a new load behind this. Is that Galilee Basin coalmines? Who else? A bit of it might be Copper Link. That’s under hot negotiation at the moment.”

    …”net present value of fully offsetting the lifetime emissions of a new 2GW “high-efficiency low-emissions” power plant could be $17.5bn, and more than $1.3bn annually by 2030, depending on what carbon policies were ultimately adopted.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/12/trevor-st-baker-says-collinsville-coal-plant-would-need-shielding-from-climate-policy-change

  17. https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2020/02/finkel-endorses-scomo-gas-plan-for-climate-change/
    “Given this was the plan hatched in the early 2000s it is hardly ScoMo’s or news.

    This is precisely what Australia always intended, along with everbody else. Then along came the gas export cartel and trashed it by sending all the cheap gas offshore and making our own prohibitively expensive, opening the way for a corrupt Coalition to blame renewables for higher electricity prices when it was always gas!

    The question now that ScoMo has made his climate change hail Mary pass on the back of bushfires is: how do we reduce the gas price?

    A deeply corrupt ScoMo wants to keep it high by fracking gas in Narrabri for $8-9Gj. Yet the Australian Government’s own Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism would today deliver gas for $2.70Gj if it were triggered. It is cheaper than Narrabri for as far out as futures go.

    What should we do then I wonder? Pull the trigger on the ADGSM and have domestically reserved gas for $2.70Gj, crashing electricity prices, or wait for years for expensive gas to arrive in NSW and barely move the needle on prices somewhere in the fog of time?

    If you can’t answer that question then you either belong in cabinet or at Sunnyfield.”

  18. …opening the way for a corrupt Coalition to blame renewables for higher electricity prices when it was always gas!

    What should we do then I wonder? Pull the trigger on the ADGSM and have domestically reserved gas for $2.70Gj, crashing electricity prices, or wait for years for expensive gas to arrive in NSW and barely move the needle on prices somewhere in the fog of time?

    Crashing electricity prices wouldn’t serve the COALition vested interests. Why did Palmer &Co have them elected? As ever it’s always about keeping the coal fires burning!

    Honest Government Ad | After the fires

  19. Svante has seen the Stephen Long report?

    All roads DO lead to Narrabri, both for water policy corruption and gas corruption.

  20. Yes Paul. Long quoted Macrobusiness’ Llewellyn-Smith.

    Big fossils don’t like cheap renewables and want the high pricing of electricity due to the domestic gas price due to the gas export cartel LibLab set up to continue as for long as they can swing it. The LibLab Feds, currently the COALition, play a mager part in swinging it and keeping it stuck there.. Big gas loves high domestic gas pricing sure, but the big coal lobby relies on it more so..

  21. mager / major ?? Oh well, “Never trust anyone who can’t spell a word more than one way” ( M Twain).

  22. Yes.
    All I can say is that the length, breadth and depth of what seems to be to be blatant and arrogance- filled corruption, so misreported by even the remnants of broadsheet, makes me sick to my guts.

    I understand the intimidation aspect and it is sad to see once bold reporters cowed by Dutton’s Gestapo.

    But it is also sad to think of essential services gone begging and lives destroyed, the amount of money and resources wasted and/ or offshored and to follow patterns of capitulation and corruption over years and decades and generations as the public sits in its stupefied bubble.

    Thanks for reply.. don’t give a stuff about typos so long as there is a point offered for thought.

  23. In four legal documents, Shakespeare signed his name six ways:
    Willm Shakp
    William Shaksper
    Wm Shakspe
    William Shakspere
    Willm Shakspere
    William Shakspeare
    The one spelling he didn’t use was the one we know him by.

  24. The one spelling he didn’t use was the one we know him by.

    Well, he’s not on record as having used it.

    He’s also not on record as having used Shakespere, Shakespear, or Shackspeare.

  25. Do we know how Bill Wobblejavlin’s name was pronounced? If so, spell it that way. I doubt he’d have a problem with it.

  26. My endorsement of a consumption-based carbon tax with taxes on untaxed carbon-containing imports and an exemption for carbon exports got an unexpected boost today from Kevin Rudd. The direction of support was unusual – Europe, Rudd argues, is thinking of levying taxes on our exports because we are doing too little to deal with our carbon emissions. As in my repeated arguments, this would have strong incentive effects on Australia to get on board with a carbon tax. We then get this tax revenue rather than the Europeans.

    My argument, often advanced on this blog, is for us to penalize others who don’t mitigate enough but now, according to Rudd, we might be in line for a belting for the same reason I had advanced. We cannot control the energy policies of other countries directly but we can levy border taxes on carbon-containing imports from those countries. Moreover, the same can be done to us if we don’t comply.

    Border taxes have exemplary moral suasion effects.

    https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/climate-tariffs-on-australia-no-longer-an-abstraction-rudd-20200212-p53zyy

  27. Then there is the Otis group. Just in time to sabotage the ALP as its image was beginning to improve.

    Svante, tried to compliment you on your posts but thing seems to have disappeared.

  28. James Wimberley,

    To be pedantic that’s not six ways. We can dispose of “William” of course because “Willm” and “Wm” are acceptable contractions for the era and maybe even today for that matter.

    “Shaks” is common to 5 of the 6 variants. The “Shakp” we can take as a deliberate contraction or an elision error.

    Thus we can deduce that Shaks is correct or at least his preferred spelling. Perhaps in that era a long “a” did not need be indicated by the “e” after “k”. Either that or the first syllable of his name was pronounced “shack” not “shake”.

    The second syllables of “sper” and “spe” can be disregarded as contractions or elisions. That leaves us with “spere” and “speare”.

    I reckon he probably spelled his name in full as William Shakspere or William Shakspeare or both. Elizabethan spelling was gloriously variable. In that era the spelling system was still in flux. Modern people can also get mixed up by their “u’s” and “v’s” and “s’s and “f’s” because of the typesetting of the era.

  29. What the frack is going on?

    How come I didn’t know the situation could be so serious but hopeless here? LibLab cover up? A radioactive waste dump site become so urgent recently because of… ?

    Radiation. Gas fracking – the waste dumps, the brine, bore dirt, sludge, infrastructure, vehicles, bore site, pump sites, injection sites, surrounding land, dams, pipes, personnel, clothes, air, wind, etc, in the USA found to be (known to be for 120 years) extremely contaminated with radioactive radium and its radioactive decay products with a 1600year half-life!

    KT2 says February 12, 2020 at 8:11pm –
    “Paul, how come you have been “censored”?
    And “It seems, in Australia, that ALL roads lead to Narrabri when it comes to resources perversions”.
    I think taking ground water will be a long term disaster in the pilliga besides coal climate effects.”

    All roads may soon lead out of Narrabri… and the Top End. Much of the western Darling Downs should already have been systematically depopulated. Many there have had it up the neck with PFAS, well how about up to the eyes and down the throat with:

    …“Breathing in this stuff and ingesting it are the worst types of exposure,” Stolz continues. “You are irradiating your tissues from the inside out.” The radioactive particles fired off by radium can be blocked by the skin, but radium readily attaches to dust, making it easy to accidentally inhale or ingest. Once inside the body, its insidious effects accumulate with each exposure. It is known as a “bone seeker” because it can be incorporated into the skeleton and cause bone cancers called sarcomas. It also decays into a series of other radioactive elements, called “daughters.” The first one for radium-226 is radon, a radioactive gas and the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. Radon has also been linked to chronic lymphocytic leukemia. “Every exposure results in an increased risk,” says Ian Fairlie, a British radiation biologist. “Think of it like these guys have been given negative lottery tickets, and somewhere down the line their number will come up and they will die.”

    – January 21, 2020
    Rolling Stone
    https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/oil-gas-fracking-radioactive-investigation-937389/
    America’s Radioactive Secret
    Oil-and-gas wells produce nearly a trillion gallons of toxic waste a year. An investigation shows how it could be making workers sick and contaminating communities across America
    By Justin Nobel

    …Radium, typically the most abundant radionuclide in brine, is often measured in picocuries per liter of substance and is so dangerous it’s subject to tight restrictions even at hazardous-waste sites. The most common isotopes are radium-226 and radium-228, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires industrial discharges to remain below 60 for each. Four of Peter’s samples registered combined radium levels above 3,500, and one was more than 8,500.

    ..“Breathing in this stuff and ingesting it are the worst types of exposure,” Stolz continues. “You are irradiating your tissues from the inside out.” The radioactive particles fired off by radium can be blocked by the skin, but radium readily attaches to dust, making it easy to accidentally inhale or ingest. Once inside the body, its insidious effects accumulate with each exposure. It is known as a “bone seeker” because it can be incorporated into the skeleton and cause bone cancers called sarcomas. It also decays into a series of other radioactive elements, called “daughters.” The first one for radium-226 is radon, a radioactive gas and the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. Radon has also been linked to chronic lymphocytic leukemia. “Every exposure results in an increased risk,” says Ian Fairlie, a British radiation biologist. “Think of it like these guys have been given negative lottery tickets, and somewhere down the line their number will come up and they will die.”

    …Tanks, filters, pumps, pipes, hoses, and trucks that brine touches can all become contaminated, with the radium building up into hardened “scale,” concentrating to as high as 400,000 picocuries per gram. With fracking — which involves sending pressurized fluid deep underground to break up layers of shale — there is dirt and shattered rock, called drill cuttings, that can also be radioactive. But brine can be radioactive whether it comes from a fracked or conventional well; the levels vary depending on the geological formation, not drilling method. Colorado and Wyoming seem to have lower radioactive signatures, while the Marcellus shale, underlying Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York, has tested the highest. Radium in its brine can average around 9,300 picocuries per liter, but has been recorded as high as 28,500. “If I had a beaker of that on my desk and accidentally dropped it on the floor, they would shut the place down,” says Yuri Gorby, a microbiologist who spent 15 years studying radioactivity with the Department of Energy. “And if I dumped it down the sink, I could go to jail.”

    …In an investigation involving hundreds of interviews with scientists, environmentalists, regulators, and workers, Rolling Stone found a sweeping arc of contamination — oil-and-gas waste spilled, spread, and dumped across America, posing under-studied risks to the environment, the public, and especially the industry’s own employees. There is little public awareness of this enormous waste stream, the disposal of which could present dangers at every step — from being transported along America’s highways in unmarked trucks; handled by workers who are often misinformed and under protected; leaked into waterways; and stored in dumps that are not equipped to contain the toxicity.

    …But the issue soon faded from the news. Discussion around it has remained mostly in the confines of arcane reports by regulators. Even in academia, it is an obscure topic. “There’s no course that teaches this,” says Julie Weatherington-Rice, an Ohio scientist with the environmental-consulting firm Bennett & Williams who has tracked oil-and-gas waste for 40 years. “You literally have to apprentice yourself to the people who do the work.” The lack of research and specialization has made it hard to reach a consensus on the risks and has facilitated the spread of misinformation. There is a perception that because the radioactivity is naturally occurring it’s less harmful (the industry and regulators almost exclusively call oil-and-gas waste NORM — naturally occurring radioactive material, or TENORM for the “technologically enhanced” concentrations of radioactivity that accumulate in equipment like pipes and trucks). But the radioactivity experts Rolling Stone spoke to dismiss the “naturally occurring” excuse. “It makes no sense,” says Kaltofen, the nuclear-forensics scientist. “Arsenic is completely natural, but you probably wouldn’t let me put arsenic in your school lunch.”

    As for the “banana red herring,” as Kaltofen calls it — the idea that there’s no more radioactivity in oil-and-gas waste than in a banana — “I call bullshit,” he says. They emit two different types of radiation. The potassium-40 in bananas predominantly emits beta particles that barely interact with your body; radium emits alpha particles, which are thousands of times more impactful and can swiftly mutate cells. He compares them this way: “If I pick up a .45-caliber bullet and throw it at you, or if I put the same bullet in a .45-caliber pistol and fire it at you, only one of these things will cause you serious harm.”

    An oft-cited 2015 study on TENORM by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection determined there are “potential radiological environmental impacts,” but concluded there was “limited potential for radiation exposure to workers and the public.” But Resnikoff, the nuclear physicist, wrote a scathing critique of the report, saying it downplayed the radioactive gas radon, misinterpreted information on radium, and ignored the well-documented risks posed by the inhalation or ingestion of radioactive dust.

    And this past summer, Bemnet Alemayehu, a radiation health physicist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, toured oil fields in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania with Rolling Stone, taking samples, including some of Peter’s brine. Alemayehu’s report is due out later this year, but he says, “The data I am seeing is that some oil-and-gas workers” — including maintenance workers and haulers like Peter — “should be treated as radiation workers.”

    …Officials found the creek in the Lupo incident to be “void of life” after the contamination, prosecutors said. But downstream, no one notified water authorities or tested water supplies for possible radioactivity, says Silverio Caggiano, a near 40-year veteran of the Youngstown fire department and a hazardous-materials specialist with the Ohio Hazmat Weapons of Mass Destruction Advisory Committee. “If we caught some ISIS terrorist cells dumping this into our waterways, they would be tried for terrorism and the use of a WMD on U.S. citizens,” says Caggiano. “However, the frac industry is given a pass on all of this.”

    Snipped.

    Read the article, and weep.

  30. Oh yes I WAS censored the Drum. I put up a link because given the subject matter discussed there, (after all, both are ABC) so fellow viewers needed to read the Stephen Long article, which points to a *another) preposterous resources rort in NSW and a widdling pup marketed while those most responsible remain obscured.

    That was removed straightaway along with a couple of subsequent protests from myself re relevance. I understand the ABC is government but the Pilliga gas rort presented by Morrison and Gladys is a deep rip off of consumers and/ or taxpayers as well as being a violent attempt to maintain the foot in the door for fracking.

    The ugly long post from Svante expands on the basic case in an almost unexpected stomach turning way, further emphasising the infantile delinquency of the barbarians responsible.

  31. Harry Clarke, February 13, 2020 at 6:10pm –

    Harry, that article you have linked is paywalled, but surely it’s just Rudd’s relevence deprivation syndrome manifesting again. He’s proved a dud once more. I recall Turnbull getting in before him on this in December after Birmingham’s shock at being mauled over this by France in November. Birmingham, another dud who should have known better as it was already quite old news then.

    Updated 01/11/2018
    SBS NEWS
    .sbs.com.au/news/climate-target-a-must-for-eu-trade-deal
    A European trade figure says Australia must keep its Paris climate targets if it wants to sign a free trade deal with the European Union.
    “Sticking to Australia’s commitments on climate change is a “prerequisite” for any free trade deal with Europe, a key trade figure says.
    …”Paris is extremely important for Europe,” Mr Moisa told AAP on Wednesday.
    “A prerequisite for any free trade agreement we would conclude is the respect and delivery of commitments, and perhaps in future even the enhancement of those commitments in Paris.

    December 10, 2019
    SMH
    .smh.com.au/politics/federal/turnbull-warns-against-climate-short-cut-amid-fears-for-eu-trade-deal-20191210-p53il1.html
    Turnbull warns against climate short-cut, amid fears for EU trade deal
    By Mike Foley
    “Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has criticised the Morrison government’s emissions reductions plans at a critical point in international negotiations, while a trade analyst warns Australia’s relationship with the European Union could be soured by the perception it’s “weaseling out” of its climate commitments.
    …Lowy Institute senior fellow Hervé Lemahieu, who visited the United Nations headquarters in Brussels last week, said Australia’s “friendly and benign image” in Europe was changing. “Australia has residual good faith in Europe, but that is being undermined by the headlines that Sydney is choking in smoke, bushfires are rampant and the government is ambiguous about the link between emissions and climate change – and the government is also weaseling out of its climate commitments at the negotiations in Madrid,” Mr Lemahieu said. “That is something the Europeans are aware of and it is something that secretly Australian diplomats are concerned about too.”

    November 29, 2019
    SMH
    .smh.com.au/politics/federal/australia-to-fight-europe-on-climate-demands-in-free-trade-deal-20191128-p53f3y.html
    Australia to fight Europe on climate demands in free-trade deal
    By Anthony Galloway
    “Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has described France’s push to force Australia to adopt climate change targets in a planned trade deal with European Union as “unprecedented”, declaring he will only accept terms that are in the best interests of the nation.
    …Climate change targets are shaping to be a major sticking point in trade negotiations with Europe – already Australia’s second-biggest trading partner – after France publicly tied Australia’s domestic action on climate change to the proposed FTA.
    Ahead of a speech in Sydney on Thursday night to the European Australian Business Council, Senator Birmingham told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age he believed trade agreements were “overwhelmingly commercial undertakings between countries” and they should “focus on commercial realities”.

    December 1, 2019
    THE AGE
    .theage.com.au/environment/climate-change/trade-talks-should-also-be-climate-talks-20191129-p53faf.html
    Trade talks should also be climate talks
    Editorial
    “… During negotiations with the European Union, France proposed tying a free trade deal to climate change targets adopted by Australia and enforceable by sanctions. As part of a government that has repeatedly defied pressure on it to set more ambitious targets, Senator Birmingham was always going to baulk, stating: “I think it would be unprecedented to see those type of provisions proposed in an agreement.”
    …And this year, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, promised in a speech to the European Parliament a carbon border tax, which is meant to protect local companies from “unfair” competition by raising the cost of products from countries that fail to take adequate action against climate change. As long as it does not turn into protectionism under another guise, it’s an idea with some merit.Even the World Trade Organisation is starting to discuss ways in which climate change could become part of future negotiations. As global trade has greatly expanded, there is a growing awareness of the detrimental impact more economic activity will have on greenhouse gas emissions. Extreme weather will also play havoc with the roughly 50,000 cargo ships at sea at any one time and coastal infrastructure, especially ports, will become highly vulnerable.
    So when Senator Birmingham says he believes trade agreements were “overwhelmingly commercial undertakings between countries” and should “focus on commercial realities”, he is most likely in the land of wishful thinking.”

    December 1, 2019
    SMH
    .smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/trade-deals-may-be-an-effective-method-of-enforcing-climate-action-20191129-p53fj1.html
    Trade deals may be an effective method of enforcing climate action
    Editorial
    “…So when Senator Birmingham says he believes trade agreements were “overwhelmingly commercial undertakings between countries” and should “focus on commercial realities”, he is most likely in the land of wishful thinking. And it’s not like those most affected by these changes to trade negotiations are going to be too surprised or possibly put out.

    Much to the annoyance of the Coalition, big business has become much more vocal about the need to do more on climate change. It should also be remembered that trade negotiations are increasingly about non-trade matters. The recent free trade agreement with Indonesia included a deal over the number of work visas for young Indonesians coming to Australia..”

    2 December 2019
    INSIDE STORY
    https://insidestory.org.au/yes-the-world-is-paying-attention-to-australias-climate-inaction/
    Yes, the world is paying attention to Australia’s climate inaction
    John Quiggin
    ..Angus Taylor has repeatedly and egregiously misled the public about key aspects of his portfolio. He has denounced renewable energy, made spurious claims about the benefits of coal-fired power, and promoted the government’s claim to be observing our emissions-reduction commitments while vetoing any policy action that might promote that goal.
    For all of this, he has had a free pass from Labor and most of the media. Their attention has been focused on a series of trivial scandals
    ..To recap: in line with its refusal to sign trade agreements with countries that have failed to ratify and implement the Paris agreements, the European Union is demanding a stronger commitment to reducing emissions as a precondition for any new trade agreements. In Australia’s case, it has also made more specific demands, including an end to our use of high-sulphur petrol, which is more polluting than would be allowed in India or China and is part of the reason why the government has rejected tighter fuel-efficiency standards.
    Australia’s trade minister, Simon Birmingham, has described France’s push to force Australia to adopt climate change targets as “unprecedented.” It’s a claim that suggests he hasn’t been paying enough attention to his job.
    .The European Union, again led by France, has made exactly the same demand of Britain in relation to any post-Brexit trade deal, and of the United States as a precondition for any trade agreement. Canada, which signed a trade deal with Europe in 2017, has recently agreed to add a joint commitment to the Paris agreement. The EU deal with Japan, also signed in 2017, includes similar terms.

    December 3, 2019
    Newscorpse – with “nothing to see here”
    .theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/climate-policy-no-barrier-to-trade-deal-with-eu-says-ambassador/news-story/0e9068d2406a0671a06c64c53f5c8a1a

    December 17, 2019 1.40am AEDT
    THE CONVERSATION
    theconversation.com/green-deal-seeks-to-make-europe-the-first-climate-neutral-continent-by-2050-128887
    ‘Green Deal’ seeks to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050
    “…A new “carbon border adjustment mechanism” – basically a carbon border tax targeting imports from non-EU countries with less strict climate policies – will also be brought in to assist.
    …The EU has been a relatively progressive actor on climate change over the past two decades, but the commission’s new set of intended commitments pushes the envelope farther than anything seen before. Some member states such as Ireland and Poland have severely struggled to meet even current EU climate obligations.
    Given the gravity of climate change, the EU institutions are right to press the case for making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.”

  32. These are the two AFR articles that Harry referred to.

    ………………………………………………….

    Rudd warns of EU tariffs on lagging Australia climate target

    Bo Seo

    Feb 12, 2020 — 3.37pm

    Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has warned that climate tariffs against Australia are being actively considered by the European Union, and that the government is set to be “200 years too late” on achieving net-zero emissions.

    “This is on the drawing board. Big time … Carbon tariffs against non-compliant countries like ours are no longer an abstraction,” Mr Rudd told the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) in Sydney on Wednesday, citing conversations with unnamed sources in the European Commission.

    Mr Rudd said the Swedish central bank’s decision to dump bonds issued by Queensland and Western Australia over environmental concerns, and asset manager BlackRock to partially divest from fossil fuels, as the “beginning of the breaking of the dam” on the costs of climate inaction.

    Climate tariffs would be a tax imposed on the goods and services of a country that is deemed to have taken insufficient action on climate change such as reducing carbon emissions.

    European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen floated the use of these tariffs in Davos at the World Economic Forum in January, vowing that the EU will protect against “unfair competition”.

    The former prime minister said the transition away from the fossil fuels would be far more disruptive to the community, if it were forced by an “investment decision in New York to deny finance to a project, killing these things stone dead”.

    Mr Rudd also criticised the government’s record on reducing climate emissions, which he said put Australia on a trajectory to “reach net-zero – not this century, not the next century – but in the following century”.

    Greenhouse gas emissions fell only 0.1 per cent in the year ended last June 30, but the government maintains it is on track to “meet and beat” its Paris target of a 26 per cent-28 per cent reduction on 2005-levels by 2030.

    Such targets were “appallingly low,” Mr Rudd told CEDA, dismissing the use of carryover credits as illegitimate.

    He presented his own 10-point plan on the environment, including a commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050 and “greater use of gas” in domestic power generation.

    Business leaders back net zero emissions by 2050

    “Gas is a great bridging energy resource to a carbon-neutral future, including, if necessary, for baseload power stations,” Mr Rudd said.

    The other points encompassed the need for a carbon price or, in its absence, regulation of power generation and product standards, cessation of public support for coal-fired power plants, tax incentives for venture capital aimed at renewable energy, domestic investment in solar technology and lithium batteries, and diplomatic outreach to build a global consensus on the climate.   

    Earlier discussions at the CEDA meeting focused on the health of Australian federalism….

    ………………………………………………….

    Australia is a prime target for green tariffs

    The big trading partners are mulling a carbon tax on Australian exports, which could send the economic costs of climate inaction through the roof.

    Craig Emerson

    Jan 28, 2020 — 12.00am

    So far, the conversation about the economic consequences of reducing Australia’s carbon emissions has been dominated by the cost to Australia of acting on climate change. “Where’s the modelling of the impact on jobs and the economy?” “Electricity prices will go through the roof!”

    No mention has been made of the economic costs of inaction. Among those many costs is the prospect of major Australian trading partners imposing tariffs and other charges on Australian goods and services.

    In a month when we lost a star of The Life of Brian, Monty Python’s Terry Jones, we could just continue to: “Always look on the bright side of life!” But, the risk of carbon tariffs is real.

    Many countries are already identifying Australia as a laggard in reducing emissions. The government’s official projections released in December 2019 are for Australia to achieve only a 16 per cent reduction in emissions on 2005 levels by 2030 – well below our Paris target of 26-28 per cent.

    To meet our target, we will need to count the Kyoto carryover credits from overachieving our generous target of an increase in emissions of up to 8 per cent between 1990 and 2012.

    Australia was one of a handful of countries at an international climate change meeting in Madrid in December persisting with the option of using the Kyoto credits.

    The architect of the Paris agreement, Laurence Tubiana, told the Financial Times: “If you want this carryover, it is just cheating. Australia was willing in a way to destroy the whole system because that is the way to destroy the whole Paris agreement.”

    EU demands

    Through this sort of behaviour, Australia is in the sights of countries looking to deny climate laggards any advantage over those that take effective action in reducing emissions.

    French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron has signalled that the EU will do a trade deal only if Australia demonstrates its commitment to the Paris agreement – a demand the EU has also placed on Britain, the US, Canada and Japan.

    The Democrats in the US are gung-ho about placing similar conditions on trading partners. Could Australia be confident a Democrat won’t win the presidency any time in the next decade or two, or that the Democrats won’t hold a majority in both houses of Congress?

    In any event, these days the Republicans – including their president – are looking for any pretext to slap tariffs on their trading partners.

    Carbon tariffs are becoming part of an economic orthodoxy, designed to prevent countries from freeriding by refusing to deal with the negative spillover of carbon emissions.

    A former director of the OECD has backed a carbon border tax (CBT) adjustment whereby a country that properly prices carbon while another does not would tax the laggard country’s products at the border to remove the advantage of the carbon subsidy.

    This carbon tariff is being proposed by the new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who warned at Davos last week: “There is no point in only reducing greenhouse gas emissions at home if we increase the import of CO2 from abroad. It is not only a climate issue; it is also an issue of fairness towards our businesses and our workers. We will protect them from unfair competition.”

    It’s not as if this threat is a new one. Shortly after being appointed trade minister in October 2010, I warned that the EU was likely to impose carbon tariffs.

    If Australia had retained its carbon price and was not contemplating using its Kyoto carryover credits towards its Paris target, we would not be facing this risk.

    Carbon tariffs would apply not only to Australia’s energy-intensive metal exports but also to exports of other goods such as wine and food, and of services such as long-haul tourism.

    Australian businesses might be outraged about this, but the risk is a real, commercial one. And it’s not as if the EU and the US have a track record of spurning protectionism; in fact, for them, one pretext for tariffs is as good as the next.

    In Australia, we need a mature analysis of the cost of not taking effective action on climate change. Company CEOs and boards can be sure fund managers, banks, insurers and regulators will be counting carbon tariffs on Australian exports as a material risk.

  33. Paul W – “Oh yes I WAS censored the Drum.”

    The new ABCC – Australian Broadcasting Censorship Corp. I hope you put in a complaint.
    http://about.abc.net.au/talk-to-the-abc/feedback-and-enquiries/complaints-process/

    Svante – the power of one “So Peter started quietly taking samples of the brine he hauled, filling up old antifreeze containers or soda bottles.”

    And as always… “They’ve known for 110 years, but they haven’t done anything about it,” says Templet. “It’s the secret of the century.”

    I have sent rolling stone article to concerned campaigners. Gieger conters and sample bottles at the ready. thanks. $300 and you get…

    https://core-electronics.com.au/geiger-counter.html

  34. Thanks akarog. Thanks Harry. I couldn’t get around their paywall last night. A little from Rudd on ABC radio was heard earlier, but I tend to tune out the droning…

    ““Gas is a great bridging energy resource to a carbon-neutral future, including, if necessary, for baseload power stations,” Mr Rudd said.” – first AFR article.

    1) How close to the Australian gas cartel is Rudd these days?

    See James’ link to Sandbag on Monday
    https://johnquiggin.com/2020/02/10/monday-message-board-449/#comment-219950

    I replied: “I don’t quite see how they are able to say “Europe’s transition avoided a bridge into gas”.

    2) If Europe last year has to a certain extent avoided gas bridging and continues to do so, and if they improve on that, say, by a faster offshore wind expansion following Merkel paying subsidies in Germany at the rate wind operators are now demanding, how will Rudd’s 10-point plan including “greater use of gas” in Australian domestic power generation stand regarding future EU carbon climate tariffs?

    https://www.thegwpf.com/end-of-a-giant-con-trick-wind-giants-in-germany-no-longer-keen-on-market-rates/

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