JONATHAN PAUL MARSHALL. Barnaby Joyce and fantasies of Climate Technology

Fantasies about improved technologies, often seem to inhibit effective responses to climate change. This is illustrated through a brief commentary on Barnaby Joyce’s comments on climate policy after his closely failed challenge for leadership of the National Party.

After he failed to win the Nationals leadership, Barnaby Joyce commented in writing about climate policy and technology. His comments demonstrate how people can avoid climate change through technological fantasy. He starts by saying:

“If you want a macro climate policy to show the world our leadership on reducing carbon emissions then we must bring in nuclear power”

Good, but will he suggest a nuclear reactor in his electorate? It might be welcomed, given the extended drought. But he probably won’t, and there is no water for cooling. One of the main functions of talk of nuclear power appears to be its use to discomfort the ‘irrational’ Left. People rarely, if ever, agitate for nuclear power in their local areas, or move for it in Parliament, even when they have the numbers. It seems pure politics. Nuclear power is expensive and requires taxpayer subsidies, such as fixed high energy prices, to be economic as with Hinkley Point in the UK. While it is generally safe, the possibility of catastrophic accident exists. Although people argue over exactly how severe Chernobyl [1], [2] and Fukushima were, their problems continue.

Mr. Joyce argues that we need:

“development of the most efficient coal power technology that uses the least units of coal for the greatest output of power. Wanting to develop the most efficient coal fired power technology in the world is not disavowing the realities of climate change it is actually something that could be provided to substantially curtail emissions.”

Emissions would be better curtailed by not emitting them, rather than by cutting them by small fractions and emitting for longer than otherwise. More importantly, as with nuclear energy, nobody in Australia seems interested in developing the “most efficient coal fired power technology in the world”. We hurled money at the coal industry to develop carbon capture and storage, and clean coal, and they did close to nothing. At the time, the Coalition said the industry spent the money on a few dinners, but that’s about all. New coal fired energy is cleaner than it was but does not significantly lower the emissions causing climate problems.

Without strong evidence we have to assume that efficient coal is not happening. It is unlikely because coal is not competitive anyway. It seems no one will build coal fired energy in Australia without government subsidies, certainly the government keeps suggesting subsidies, and if the builders are going to develop real low emissions coal based energy, then that will take money, research and time. It will be likely to cost more, and be even less competitive.

Local coal mines, add to problems. They consume, disrupt or pollute water supplies when we face longer and harsher droughts. Adani has been promised unlimited groundwater. If renewables took and polluted as much water, then Mr. Joyce would probably complain.

He continues: “We have to recognise that the public acceptance of wind towers on the hill in front of their veranda is gone, and the public dissonance on that issue is as strong as any other environmental subject. We have to understand that there is no sure thing in a political debate. If wind towers are a moral good and environmentally inoffensive why can’t we have them just off the beach at Bondi so we can feel good about ourselves while going for a surf? It would cause a riot.”

This again is a rhetorical fantasy. Choice is rarely offered in development. No one has offered wind turbines on Bondi Beach. I’ve no idea whether there would be enough wind there, but why not? He states “there is no sure thing in a political debate,” yet it’s a sure thing that wind turbines at Bondi would cause riots. Can he be sure? Why not give Sydney’s Inner West a choice between Wind turbines and toll-roads? Currently residents have no choice but to have a tollway with unfiltered exhaust stacks which will cause sickness. We have people’s homes shattered by vibration. We have people thrown out of their houses, without enough compensation to buy back into the area. If view is important, then Westconnex seems less attractive than Wind turbines. Cities may be privileged but residents rarely get a choice between developments.

We could think about installing ‘vertical’ or ‘helix’ wind turbines on office buildings. These don’t take up much space, and add to the free electricity of the building. They may not make as much power as standard turbines, but they would diminish emissions. With the right legislation, people with energy generation on their rooftops could sell directly to neighbours. However, this seems forbidden. Local councils in NSW can’t use the roof of one building to provide power for another building, even if it’s across the road. They have to sell their power to the grid operator, and then buy it back at the standard price. This is a known inefficiency which could be remedied.

“Do you want a 3000 hectare solar farm next door to you? Lots of glass and aluminium neatly in rows pointing at the sun. I am not sure others will want to buy that view off you when you go to sell your house!”

Would Mr Joyce prefer the view of a coal fired power station, or a coal mine? I don’t know, perhaps he would. There is no accounting for taste. However, standard issues of pollution, water risk, highways and building developments, are just ignored in a fantasy of open fields. At least solar panels are quiet, and don’t poison residents.

“When politicians do stand behind a global climate policy the only certainty is that it will be the policy that has the least direct effect on them…. Simple answers are generally wrong.”

The simple answer, if you want to ignore climate change and its consequences, is more coal and more coal exports. But “simple answers are generally wrong.” Mr. Joyce’s answers depend on fantasies that fossil fuels have no cost, and that it is easy for Australians to adapt to their consequences of those costs.

The climate trajectory we are on is likely to mean more drought, so we cannot afford to pollute water by mining, or lose water through mining, or through processing the products of mining. Water depletion will mean that farms will collapse and country towns will die. Renewables might help give the towns some way of existing. That requires some thought about extending and freeing up the grid. This, however, is a real problem without misleading fantasy, as opposed to burning coal with low enough emissions to make a difference, or gaining nuclear power without political will.

Jonathan Paul Marshall is a researcher at the University of Technology, Sydney, investigating problems with climate technologies.

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6 Responses to JONATHAN PAUL MARSHALL. Barnaby Joyce and fantasies of Climate Technology

  1. Jon Marshall says:

    My understanding, which may be wrong, is that the Howard Government issued a clean energy white paper in 2004 which talked a reasonable amount about Carbon Capture and Storage, and mentioned a “low emission technology fund” which was to have $500m to spend, on all kinds of stuff including CCS. I’m not sure if much was spent.

    The explicit idea was to save coal from climate action.

    When John Howard started to worry he might loose the election to Kevin Rudd because of climate change, and made a number of quick innovations in policy. One of which was to announce an investment of $18.5 million in carbon capture and storage in the Budget. This implies that not much money was coming from the low emissions fund, or they needed a new announcement.

    Rudd promised to establish a $500 million National Clean Coal Fund, which he did.

    I don’t think John Howard’s government spent much or anything but, my research on the topic started with Rudd, so no promises this is absolutely accurate

  2. Michael Rogers says:

    “his closely failed challenge for leadership of the National Party.”

    Not quite.

    His challenge was for the position of ‘leader’ of the federal parliamentary ‘National party room’, an entity which has no existence outside of the Federal Parliament and currently consists of MPs from the NSW and Vic. ‘National’ parties, a ‘choice’ selection from the ‘Liberal National Party of Queensland’ (one of whom has as a response to Joyce’s failure, not moved his cushion to join ‘LNP of QLD’ colleagues in the federal parliamentary ‘Liberal party room’ but rather to the ‘cross-benches’), and a Senator from the N.T. ‘Country Liberal Party’.

    The glorified customs union of six self-governing British settler-colonies under the Crown of the U.K. is not a ‘unitary state’ and its political parties are state and territory-based.

  3. Fernando Longo says:

    If I’m not mistaken, Mr Howard wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on clean coal. Anything to distract.

    As for what’s more economical:

  4. One of the persistent COALition technology fantasies is ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’ (CC&S).

    Prime Minister Turnbull seemed proud in his National Press Club address that his Goverment had invested (spent) over $500 million ion research into CC&S. And the result? Nothing useful.

    The arithmetic is compelling. The Wiki on the Hazelwood Power Station reports that one megawatt of power creates 1.56 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide:

    The Loy Yang A & B Power Stations have a ‘plate capacity’ of 4,350 megawatts.

    Suppose they operate at about 50% for 24 hours a day. The tonnes of CO2 become:

    ~2000 megawatts * ~ 1.5 tonnes per megawatt * 24 hours = 72,000 tonnes of CO2 each day, or 26.28 Million tonnes of CO2 per year.

    My question to Mr Joyce is this: having captured 72,000 tonnes of CO2 each day, what is the capture cost to the consumer per kilowatt-hour, and where will these 26.28 million tonnes of CO2 per year be stored?

  5. Andrew Glikson says:

    It is not generally appreciated that the concentration fo CO2 in the atmosphere (412 ppm and ~500 ppm equivalent when combined with methane and nitrous oxide) is already genenrating its own feedbacks from land and sea through ampliifying feedbacks form land and oceans. For this reason the, clearly essential, need for reduced emissions is not sufficient to arrest global warming.
    Planetary arson and amplifying feedbacks: No alternative to CO2 drawdown
    No one knows how to impose 1.5 or 2.0 degrees Celsius limits on the mean global temperature, unless drawdown/carbon sequestration of atmospheric CO₂ is attempted, nor are drawdown methods normally discussed in most political or economic forums. According to Kevin Drum (2019), “Meeting the climate goals of the Paris Agreement is going to be nearly impossible without removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere”.

    • Jon Marshall says:

      Yes you are probably right. It is a pity that the Australian government does not seem to be interested in drawdown research, that I am aware of – only in clean coal.

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