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John Passant

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February 2012



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Why won’t Australia invest in renewables?

With five degrees of global warming, an entirely new planet is coming into being – one largely unrecognisable from the Earth we know today. The remaining ice sheets are eventually eliminated from both poles. Rainforests have already burned up and disappeared. Rising sea levels have inundated coastal cities and are beginning to penetrate far inland into continental interiors. Humans are herded into shrinking zones of habitability by the twin crises of drought and flood…

These words were written by Mark Lynas in his 2007 book Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, describing the effects on Earth if we reached just 5 degrees of planetary warming. At the time this was considered a worst case scenario. Four years later, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency said, “With current policies in place, global temperatures are set to increase 6 degrees Celsius, which has catastrophic implications…”

Despite this dire warning being made on the opening day of the 2011 Climate Change Conference in Durban, what did world governments do? They had a meeting to discuss an agreement to have another meeting to discuss an agreement that will come into effect in 2020. Much like Copenhagen, it was absolute farce: fiddling while the planet burns.

2010 saw the largest increase in global carbon emissions on record. Whilst some countries have been increasing their investment in renewables, on 17 November Ernst & Young forecasted, “Financial austerity measures in 10 nations, including the US, Japan, Spain and Germany, will cut spending on climate protection measures by $45 billion in the five years through 2015.”

To anyone reading this, it can seem totally bizarre that governments around the world are acting this way. It is not a question of ignorance on their part. Scientists across the world have made the facts plain, with predictions of climate catastrophe every year getting darker.

The problem, I would argue, is capitalism. It is due to an entire system in which corporations and the rich profit daily from the use of the most destructive fossil fuels. They are not hindered but rewarded by governments for doing so. In fact three of the five most profitable corporations in the world for 2011 were Exxon Mobil, Gazprom, and Royal Dutch Shell. Australia, a vast and sunny country should be leading the way in solar technology. But no, profitable dirty coal is king.

Handouts to fossil fuels and peanuts to renewables

Action needs be taken immediately to reduce carbon emissions and move to renewable energy, a sentiment most Australians agree with. Yet for all the talk of the Gillard government investing in a clean energy future, only tiny amounts are actually being spent in comparison to the massive handouts given to the biggest polluters.

The passing of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) Bill on 10 November 2011 has made available an extra $1.7b, on top of an existing $1.5b, to directly invest in renewable projects until 2020. That is $350m a year. Pathetic.

What about the carbon tax? It is littered with handouts to the biggest polluters. The Coal Sector Jobs Package (CSJP) will hand out $1.26 billion over six years to the most polluting coal mines. That’s $250m a year. The steel industry will be getting a $300m handout. But it gets worse. The Jobs and Competitiveness Program will handout $9.2b worth of free polluting permits to the top steel, aluminium and cement companies.

The main investments in renewables coming from the tax are said to come from the establishment of the $10b Clean Energy Finance Corporation. All indications are that this will not be about proactively building wind turbines or solar plants, but handouts to private companies to ensure they profit from renewable energy.

So far, the only “experts” appointed to lead the CEFC are three bankers. It will be chaired by Jillian Broadbent who has been on the Reserve Bank board for 13 years and a former director of Woodside Petroleum. She will be joined by David Paradice who runs a $6.6b boutique investment fund, and Ian Moore, former head of corporate finance at Bankers Trust. Trust bankers!? The GFC taught us that bankers can’t even be trusted with banks, let alone the planet.

Shocking as these figures are, handouts to coal companies are nothing new in Australia. In fact every year billions are given to the biggest polluters. One of the most comprehensive reports on government subsidies estimated that in 2005 alone, the Australian government spent around $10.1b in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. This is more than the total amount the government today is committing to renewables.

Handouts like this are not simply Australian phenomena. New figures from the International Energy Agency show that globally governments spent $1.4b every day in direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industries.

Internationally, Australia has played an important role in holding back the development of renewable technology. Australia played an important role in watering down the Kyoto Protocol, such as the introduction of clause 3.7 (commonly referred to as the “Australia clause”), allowing deforestation to be exempted when setting emission targets.

At Copenhagen, the delegation argued for Australia to make less cuts to emissions then the rest of the world, and for the removal of any legally-binding cuts like those from Kyoto. Finally, the delegation to the most recent conference in Durban helped ensure no legally-binding agreement emerged, with Greg Combet hailing the do-nothing agreement as an “historic” outcome.

Fossil fuels make Australian capitalism go around

Massive handouts to the dirtiest industries, tiny investments in renewables, pushing this same agenda on the rest of the world: why is the Australian government doing this? Many argue it is solely due to the impact of the coal lobby groups on the government. It is so much more. The fossil fuel and mining industries are central to Australian capitalism.

Whilst Australia is one of the most ideal countries in the world to utilise solar technology, it is also one of the most mineral and fossil fuel rich. Around 20 percent of the world’s coal is here, along with 47 percent of the world’s uranium. To put this in perspective, with current production levels it would be 539 years (pdf) before we ran out of coal, and 141 years for uranium. With such enormous reserves it is no surprise that Australia is the largest exporter of coal in the world, with domestic use accounting for only one-third of total production.

This has meant that a series of countries around the world, particularly in the Asia Pacific region such as Japan, China, and South Korea, are now heavily dependent on Australian export of coal and uranium. Worried that Japan may be scaling back its nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Australia has been quick to shore up India as a new export location where profits can be made.

You can see now why the Australian government has a vested interest in stifling the development of renewable technologies not just here, but across the world. The more coal fired plants and nuclear power that cover the world, the more trading partners and thus profits Australian companies can make.

Government handouts to the big polluters and their infrastructure ensure the most profitable environment possible for these corporations to operate in. Just think about BHP Billiton, which last year posted a record profit of $22.5b, the largest ever in Australian corporate history.

When put into the wider context of the position that Australia has in the global capitalist system, and the centrality of the mining industry, it makes perfect economic sense to continue using the most polluting fossil fuels available. The attitude of the rich is “Who cares about the planet or human life when there are record profits to be made?”

We could have had solar power decades ago

Despite solar technology seen today as new and radical, it has existed for as long as the modern means of refining oil. The photoelectric effect was first observed in 1839, followed by the solar steam engine in 1868. The first photovoltaic solar panel was built in the 1880s and the first major solar power plant was built in 1912 in Egypt. Using mirrors which concentrated the sun’s rays to a central point, water was boiled to steam, which powered a turbine, thereby creating electricity.

The outbreak of World War I saw this model plant dismantled and used for scrap metal. Its inventor Frank Shuman wasn’t far off when he spoke to the German parliament in 1914, “One thing I feel sure of… is that the human race must finally utilise direct sun power or revert to barbarism.”

The large availability of coal and the discovery of cheap oil saw fossil fuels remain the dominant energy source. To cement their position, corporate interests ensured the emerging renewable technologies would be largely ignored for decades. Just like the way of the electric car or the electric trolley system in the US, these technologies were shutdown to the benefit of coal, oil, and car companies.

Yet, today the exact same technology used in 1912 is now seen as cutting edge with German company Desertec building solar power plants across Tunisia.

So what’s the alternative?

Here in Australia, research by the Melbourne Energy Institute has shown that a 200km by 200km square of solar panels – 0.05 percent of total land – would produce enough energy to power the whole of Australia. Include the use of wind and hydroelectric power and the potential is enormous.

This is the sort of infrastructure that should be built, yet it is the mining companies and coal plant owners that have everything to lose from it. Let’s start with taxing Gina Rinehart’s $10b, and BHP’s record $22.5b profit and fund renewables that way. If the system is geared towards upholding the profits of these corporations to the detriment of the planet, then the system needs to go.

This article, by Michael Kandelaars, first appeared in Socialist Alternative.



Comment from Shane H
Time February 9, 2012 at 8:41 pm

Well I am skeptical – not about AGW but about these numbers. What are the chances of 5-6% warming? These apocalytic scenarios are a bit like the ‘green’ version of the ‘red’ argument that capitalism is facing its final crisis.

A 200 sq km array is pretty huge actually and the problem is how to carry this output to the user.

Comment from John
Time February 9, 2012 at 9:32 pm

One point, Shane. It is five to six degrees, not percent. Not sure if that is better or worse in relative terms but in absolute terms it is horrifying.

Andrew Glickson, earth and paleo-climate scientist wrote in the Conversation (The Faustian bargain – while we debate the numbers the planet suffers)) that 4 degrees was already almost inevitable.

The IPCC says two degrees is now the lower end of the scale (doesn’t it?)

Comment from John
Time February 11, 2012 at 9:50 am

Yes, I agree about the scepticism of 5 to 6 degrees, when the real debate seems to be about 2 or more dgrees.

Comment from Terrance
Time February 11, 2012 at 9:54 am

When the ACT Government sought to invest in renewabel energy in the form of electric cars, you wrote a letter attacking them for investing in Zionist products.

Are you favouring Chinese technology, built in slave camps and gulags, or American technology, created by war mongering capitalists?

BTW John, I agree with what you write about this (and especially your fine stance on all mattters Aboriginal and Islander) but surely if you want to break the back of fossil fuel dependency, it means breaking the strangehold of Arab oil producers, which then attracts arguments of another kind regarding imperialsm, colonialism, destroying nacent Arab springs through lack of investment etc.

Can’t win in this case, can we?

Comment from John
Time February 11, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Shane, there’s an article in today’s Australian saying that a French study says 2 degrees is very optimistic and it is likely to be between 3.5 and 5.

Comment from home auto profit system
Time February 14, 2012 at 8:26 am

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