Talking about sustainable economy tonight: Kenmore

Live in the Kenmore area? Think we could use a more sustainable economy and want to take action locally?   Join us this Thursday Oct 10th, 6:30 for 7pm, at the Kenmore Library when Transition Town Kenmore hosts UQ’s John Quiggin. He’ll give us his big picture take on where things are heading with a  talk on “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren: Why Keynes was wrong in 1930, but might be right today.” Free and open to all.

Not everyone likes the grand bargain

I’ve been very surprised by the extent to which some commentators on the right have been willing to entertain the idea of a carbon price in return for lifting the ban on nuclear power. I mentioned Aaron Patrick in the Fin yesterday. And today, here’s Adam Creighton at the Oz

Reviving the carbon tax debate is probably anathema for many, but if one were set up correctly, with all the money being returned to taxpayers by way of an annual payment, it would make nuclear power stations more viable and provide a political springboard to abandon the massively inefficient clutter of state and federal renewable energy targets.
Carbon dividends for all is a much better sell than a carbon tax on everything

On the other hand, one person from whom I confidently expected unqualified support has jibbed at it. As I said a while back, the proposal should appeal to anyone who seriously believes that nuclear power should be adopted as a response to climate change.

The obvious example, for me at any rate, is Ben Heard. So, I was quite surprised when, in a lengthy Twitter discussion (here’s his feed), he would not endorse a carbon price, or any other specific measure to reduce emissions. Not only that, but he professed greater sympathy for rightwing science deniers than for anti-nuclear environmentalists.

It’s easy enough to guess what is going on here. I imagine Heard started out with genuine concern about the climate, and convinced himself that nuclear power was an essential part of the solution. That entailed arguing that renewables couldn’t do the job, even with storage. At this point, Heard would have got plenty of hostility from environmentalists, and plenty of support from denialists. So, when he’s faced with something like a carbon price (or, for that matter, any effective climate policy) that his new friends will hate (check out the old white male Oz commenters on Creighton’s post), he backs away. I’ve previously seen the same pattern with Barry Brook and (from a different starting point) Ted Trainer.

A nuclear grand bargain ?

I wasn’t expecting much of a reaction to my submission to two Parliamentary inquiries into nuclear power, in which I advocated imposing a carbon price (set to rise to $50/tonne over time) and, conditional on this, repealing the existing legislative ban on nuclear power.

Over the weekend, though, I heard that Aaron Patrick of the Fin was asking a few people about it. Given my past history with Patrick, I was expecting a gotcha hatchet job, or worse.

When today’s Fin came out, I was surprised to learn (via Twitter and email, as I don’t subscribe), that the Fin had run not one, but two articles about my submission, both by Patrick. The first that came to my attention was the expected gotcha, focusing on the recommendation to repeal the ban, while softpedalling the carbon price to the point of near-invisibility (just enough of a mention that he could deny having ignored it altogether).

The second, though, was a reasonably accurate and supportive summary of the proposal (a few digs at me, but I have a thick skin). Money quote:

A carbon price would delight the left, and would be unlikely to upset most of the business community. Small-scale nuclear reactors could be framed as a nascent technology that might not ever happen – giving its opponents a short-term political victory in the long-term national interest.
A confident and pragmatic centre-right government could seize the opportunity to alter the path of Australian economic and environmental history – from one of the worst emitters of carbon, based on population, to among the lowest.

As I’ve said previously, anyone who seriously believes that nuclear power should be adopted as a response to climate change ought to endorse this proposal. I find it hard to imagine that the nuclear boosters in the LNP are in this category, but if they are, here’s their chance to put their hands up.

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What price nuclear power ?

As I mentioned a while ago, the Standing Committee on Environment and Energy of the Commonwealth Parliament is inquiring into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia. There’s a similar inquiry happening in NSW.

All the evidence suggests that this isn’t serious exercise. Rather it’s something intended to appease the National Party or troll the Greens, depending on where you are coming from.

Still, it’s a Parliamentary inquiry on an important issue, so I decided to take it at face value and make a submission. My central recommendation is a combined policy

  • Introduce a carbon price, rising gradually to $50/tonne of CO2
  • Repeal legislative bans on nuclear power

I’m pretty confident this package will have close to zero supporters in Parliament, but it ought to appeal to two groups.

First, anyone who seriously believes that nuclear power should be adopted as a response to climate change. That’s a small, but non-empty set, since most nuclear fans are climate deniers. But for those people, it should be obvious that nuclear power is never going to happen except with a carbon price high enough to wipe out coal, and compete with gas.

Second, renewable supporters who want action now, and are prepared to give nuclear a chance in 15-20 years time if it’s needed. The carbon price would push a rapid transition to solar PV, wind and storage, and would be neutral as between these technologies and nuclear. On present indications, that would be sufficient to decarbonize the electricity supply at low cost. But if a fixed-supply technology turned out to be absolutely necessary, one or two nuclear plants might possibly happen.

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