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An open letter to the Prime Minister

Lionel Orford is new to Webdiary. He is a professional electrical engineer with a long standing interest in renewable energy, energy sustainability and climate change, and has studied the Peak Oil issue in depth snce 2004. This is his debut piece for Webdiary - thank you and welcome, Lionel.

An Open Letter to Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia

3 December, 2007

The Hon Kevin Rudd MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House

Dear Prime Minister,

Firstly, congratulations on your historic election win. Your promise of “new leadership” and a focus on Australia’s future are certainly needed at this time.

You have come to power at a time of a looming worldwide economic crisis; a time when we desperately need new leadership to deal with the immense problems ahead of us and an end to the deception, denial and neglect that characterised the Howard era. The news is in and it is very bad news indeed:

  • We have now almost certainly reached Peak Oil. The highest ever level of worldwide production of “all liquids” was in 2006 and conventional crude oil was in 2005. It would now take a minor miracle to raise production above these levels and the rate of decline is almost certain to accelerate over the next few years such that “business as usual” is impossible.
  • Global Warming is proceeding much faster than most scientists expected and we are completely clueless on how serious the problems will be and how fast they will unfold.

I do not address the Global Warming issue in depth in this letter because no actions by your government alone can have any significant impact on the problem as it is a worldwide problem, where extensive damage has already been done and major consequences are now inescapable. However, I must stress that I fully support major initiatives in renewable energy development, energy conservation and a global plan of action through the UN because these are the correct actions to mitigate the crises being brought about Global Warming and by Peak Oil.

Even though the effects of climate change are likely to be very serious, they are largely unknown and will play out over the coming decades. However, Peak Oil will have major consequences over the coming years – during your time as Prime Minister.

The unfolding crisis is in several ways analogous to the sinking of the Titanic. We are now at the stage where the ship has hit the iceberg and is already taking on water; its fate is sealed.

The crew is now trying to avoid panic by the passengers by announcing “All is well, the ship is unsinkable, there’s no need to launch the lifeboats”. Unfortunately most of the crew is yet to realise that this is simply not true – they are optimists, still in the denial of the dreadful truth.

There is an urgent need for recognition of the problem so as to best manage the crisis. Denial of the problem at this time will lead to inaction and a far greater disaster, just as it did on the Titanic.

Like the Titanic, this crisis was caused by gross negligence and hubris that led to the belief that the ship was unsinkable. The inevitability of Peak Oil and its effects have been known for decades, but rigorously denied, based on the belief that our technological prowess has made us invulnerable to reality.

Welcome to the job of Captain of the SS Australia.

Peak Oil and the Unfolding Economic Crisis

To those unstudied in PO, it initially seems “no big deal” - something that, to some Greenies, will stop us destroying ourselves or something, to the economists, that the market and technical innovation will deal with.

Both are extremely misguided by their respective ideologies and just flat wrong.

The bad news for the Greenies is that far from being that which will save us by reining in capitalism, it may well result in our demise through social dysfunction and the use of any available energy source, no matter how environmentally destructive.

The bad news for the economists is that the market and technical innovation is completely unable to provide solutions to the demise of its staple food source – cheap energy. It has been assumed that as crude oil declines, we will turn increasingly to “alternative” sources of oil. This is a ridiculous assumption, based on hubris and blind faith; it is completely detached from reality. There are simply no alternatives to oil – no combination that can be obtained fast enough and in sufficient quantities to replace the dwindling supply.

What we have seen over the last three years of significantly higher oil prices is massive stimulation of efforts to increase supply, but the small increases in supply have not matched the declines in the large mature oil fields. We have seen demand fall to match supply by means of poor countries simply falling by the wayside.

Now the world is guzzling its way through its trading reserves, but this can not last for long.

Very soon we will face an oil supply shortfall which results in dramatic escalation in the oil price. As the price increases, people will do what they can to reduce their usage. However, very quickly the discretionary use of fuel (trips to the coast, overseas holidays, interstate travel, etc) will be reduced to almost nothing.

At first this doesn’t sound that bad, but consider what it means for our service based economy. At best, it means a downturn and at worst, a collapse of the tourism industry, the airline industry and the rest of industries based on selling us stuff we want but don’t actually need. It means unemployment for many thousands, along with the bankruptcies and foreclosures of people’s homes.

The result will be a recession, which drives down demand to match supply through “demand destruction”.

A mild rate of decline (say < 1.5% p.a.) may result in a mild recession that goes on and on because there is insufficient oil to allow re-establishment of economic growth. The world economy would grind to a halt and a failure of the market system would probably follow.

However, it is far more likely that the economy will overshoot into a recession far more severe than what is required to cut back oil consumption to match supply. Ironically, as in the 1980’s, we would then see an excess of oil supply and a dramatic fall of the price. However, unlike the recovery of the 90’s, any economic recovery would be short lived due to significantly reduced oil availability due to depletion in the intervening period.

The magnitude of the coming decline in oil availability is truly alarming. In October 2007, the Energy Watch Group – a research body that provides advice to the German government – released a report which states that which is becoming more and more obvious; that we passed the worldwide Peak Oil in 2006.

Furthermore, EWG forecasts that the decline rate will be much higher than that foreseen by any other group, including ASPO. EWG predicts that crude production will be down to around two thirds of current production by 2020 and to half by 2030. If these well researched forecasts are correct, it is totally infeasible to reduce consumption by this amount in 2 decades, except through a collapse of our current system.

But the story gets worse. Petroleum geologist Jeffrey J. Brown has developed an ‘Export Land Model’ which models what happens to exports from the major oil exporting nations whose domestic demand is still growing while their oil production is in decline. These nations include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, Kuwait, many of the smaller middle eastern oil producers and most importantly Russia – the worlds largest oil producer. The model suggests that it will only take about nine years from Peak Oil for exports from the major producers to reduce to zero. This is very much in line with what actually happened to Britain, where it took only six years from peak production for Britain to again become a net oil importer. This spells disaster for major oil importers, particularly the USA and Western Europe.

Right now, the USA seems to be in the initial phase of “The Long Emergency”, as James Kunstler has dubbed it. I think that the only uncertainties are how fast their economy will fall apart and what the reaction of the US high command will be. A collapse of the dollar seems imminent because of the converging effects of the unsustainable boom financed by ballooning consumer debt and the unsustainable flooding of the world economy with US Dollars to import two thirds of their oil as well as a flood of consumer goods. The United States is bankrupt but nobody wants to admit it. The main reasons that in the US Dollar retains any value at all are that a large number of countries hold dollars as foreign reserve, almost everybody buys their oil in dollars and manufacturing countries, particularly China, do not want to see a collapse of their largest market.

The consequences and speed of the downfall of the American Empire are highly unpredictable, but it is certain to be a disaster for the whole world, which ever way it unfolds. I worry that the US high command may do something really stupid, like launching military action to seize oil by force by attacking Iran or Venezuela for example. My only hope is that their current war for oil is going very badly and I don’t think the American people will support any new resource wars. However, this may change if the economy collapses and there is massive unemployment and hardship similar to that of the Weimar Republic of the 1920s.

What your Government can do about it.

Prime Minister, it’s time to tell the crew and passengers the dismal truth and get everybody working together to launch the lifeboats.

Step 1. Tell the Truth

No government wants to tell the truth about the dire situation because that would cause a loss of confidence in the market economy and the government itself. However, you have an obligation to inform the Australian people of the seriousness of the situation and to take action to start to deal with it. You have an obligation to desist with the “all is well” denial and inaction of the previous government; to seek frank, fearless, honest and realistic advice from departments such as ABARE and DITR rather than covering up the problems by seeking only “optimistic” advice that will maintain confidence in the market economy, as your predecessor did.

I contend that it is far better to level with the Australian people before crisis hits than to wait for it to happen and then react by saying “who could have known? – I was deceived!” Well – after verifying what I’m now telling you – you have no excuse not to know! To claim that you didn’t know would be to claim your own incompetence and the electorate would be justified in throwing you out of office at the next election.

The news must be delivered so as not to cause panic and I do see how difficult that is. The finesse required here is to term the news in terms of planning for the coming oil supply and economic problems. I note that your election campaign rhetoric did mention this very briefly.

Step 2. Start Planning for Major Infrastructure Works

When the economy goes into recession or depression, the only known way that some economic activity can be restored and unemployment reduced is by government investment – Keynesian economic intervention.

At the same time as this government intervention is required; the nation has a burning need for infrastructure to allow our society to function with an ever declining supply of oil.

I suggest that these are the most pressing needs:

  • Major investment in national electric railway infrastructure – long distance freight, high speed passenger rail and suburban light rail. A vast amount of petroleum is consumed by road freight, air travel and commuting. The majority of it can be powered by electricity. This would also enable greenhouse emissions to be significantly reduced due to the large increase in efficiency of rail transport compared with road and air transport.
  • Major investment in infrastructure to better manage our water usage. We need to return the waste water generated by our cities to the land, together with the precious nutrients it contains.
  • Major investment in carbon capture and storage. I personally don’t think this will prove technically and economically viable, but none the less, we should pursue it until it is proven non-viable. We have no other resource except coal which can be readily deployed to provide the rapid increase in the electricity we need.
  • Massive investment in renewable energy. The most promising technologies here are solar thermal with heat storage and geothermal. There is no point in developing large scale intermittent resources such as wind, photovoltaic and wave power because such intermittent generation cannot be managed on a large scale.
  • Develop oil from coal technology in Australia, with the up-front requirement that any plant built must sequester the huge amount of carbon dioxide it produces. Again, this may never be viable, but the viability should be assessed.
  • Get serious about infrastructure to allow bicycles to be used safely for commuting. This includes bikeways, storage facilities, showers and possibly public hire bike depots.

There is a problem with major government investment during the current boom times because such investment would be inflationary. However, this boom will end very soon and the planning behind such major infrastructure works takes years, with only a relatively small amount spent during the planning phase.

Step 3. Start conserving what we have left

Rationing of fuel will be one of the first steps required to deal with the coming shortages. If this isn’t done, there will be mayhem – hoarding of supplies, black market profiteering, queues for fuel at petrol stations and crucially, shortages for essential services, particularly food production and distribution. I believe that tradable quotas are the best means of rationing demand as they would allow people with greater needs to buy additional quota and reward those who conserve most effectively.

If rationing was implemented via a worldwide “Oil Depletion Protocol”, where all countries reduce their consumption progressively to match the available supply, this would mitigate the problem in the most equitable way possible, hopefully preventing a breakdown of world order. However, getting the US onboard is bound to be difficult.

The rationing system must also reserve enough fuel to implement the infrastructure works required to adapt to the post-peak world.

Step 4. Get our best and brightest onto developing long term solutions

The size of the challenge that confronts us is truly staggering. I fully support your “Education Revolution” and regard the deliberate neglect of public education by the Howard government as reprehensible.

However, there is no point training more economists and bankers for the capitalist system which will not exist for much longer.

A new economic system

The fundamental problem behind all the problems we face; the reaching of practical limits to growth in the case of oil, water and deforestation, and the consequences of the waste products in the case of Global Warming, is that our economy is dependent on economic growth and fails to function without it.

We need an entirely new economic system which must be able to

  • function effectively without economic growth
  • function to equitably share resources in a world of declining resources
  • enable the development of local communities that are largely self sufficient
  • facilitate depopulation of the planet
  • restore planetary ecosystems

Such an economy may need to be a state run economy, which have a poor track record. We need to learn from the mistakes of former state run economies and come up with something that works. I have thought long and hard about this and can offer few practical suggestions.

A new energy system

We must face reality and understand that we are dependant on large amounts of energy just to meet our fundamental needs and this cannot be changed in years or decades; it will take lifetimes. We must also understand that while there is energy available, we humans will use it because availability of energy is standard of living.

A recent Energy Watch Group report tells the bad news that coal will be peaked out worldwide within 20 to 30 years. It will simply impossible to provide the minimum energy needs of a population that lives in cities once the oil, gas and coal are severely depleted.

Current technology nuclear power (based on the fission of Uranium235) is only able to provide a relatively small part of our energy needs because viable supplies of Uranium235 are very limited. Developing this technology for Australia would be very short sighted indeed.

Hence I contend that we should get started on developing safe breeder reactors which convert Uranium238 to nuclear fuel and/or breeder reactors that convert Thorium to fuel. Uranium238 is a large resource and Thorium is a vast resource, capable of providing our energy needs for millennia. This is a large technical undertaking that will take decades, but the long term need for it is really beyond question.

Conclusion

When one fully understands the magnitude of the problems that we humans have caused ourselves, it’s tempting to just throw up your hands in dismay and just give up. Like the Titanic, we are in a situation where no desirable outcome is possible. However, we must do what we can to work for the best possible outcome.

The first step is to desist with the denial of the problems and the fantasy that everything is OK; that the market will sort it out. This involves informing the public about the seriousness of our predicament.

The second step is to get stuck in and do what we can to adapt to our new situation.

If there is any aspect of this letter on which you would like me to provide references or further information, I am most willing to provide this. Stealing your line - I’m from Queensland and I’m here to help.

Most sincerely,

Lionel Orford

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Yes, Really Dude

Craig Rowley: "Is he really claiming globalisation is ten thousand years old?  What planet is he on?"

Well unless I am addressing an Aboriginal Pygmy or some such I would suggest you are a product of globalization. Even thinking back to school history studies (if memory serves me correctly) there was an Egyptian Queen named Hatshepsut that set off on a Nubian (Somalia) trade mission - granted this took place only around five thousand years ago. No doubt she was advised to forget and leave it all in the capable hands of the trusty Lower Nile Municipality.

Yeah Right

Oh ... yeah ... that's right, Paul, if you pretend the distance between Egypt and Somalia is like ... well ... the circumference of the whole globe, then you can claim globalisation is around five thousand years old.

Then, if in 8,000 BCE, in the Neolithic period just after the end of the Ice Age, the world's 5,000,000 people all had awareness of each other and the international trade opportunities between small tribes spread wide across the globe, you could be right about globalisation being 10,000 years old.

They were busy preparing for the next WTO round in the Franchthi Cave, weren't they? 

They'd realised that first they had to invent the notion of a nation to make international trade work, and then somehow overcome the natural barriers to trade between the world's continents, you know little obstacles like oceans and stuff, hadn't they?

A Few Strange Myths That Will Never Be True

Ian McPherson, personally I don't like the idea of a consumption tax. If you want to slow consumption that is the answer: A consumption tax on everything.

Energy being overly cheap is a myth: Who exactly is it overly cheap for? Both energy and produce would and have always been a large part of the average person's expenses. Rising prices will only make it more difficult for these people and will only catch others in the net.

Lionel Orford: "There's no way that the rich will accept having their standard of living stripped from them and it would cause a collapse of the market economy, which only works if we use more, more, more of everything, but most of all energy."

Actually, rising energy costs will result in the reverse. The rich will get richer and the rest will never get out of their present level of living - if anything it will collapse the reason why things like non-binding Kyoto agreements are so meaningless. Nobody to date has felt the repercussions of what achieving those targets actually means. Governments sending their citizens lifestyles backward have no chance of survival - therefore any overly harsh 2020 targets won't be achieved.

Ian McPherson: "And, if the world buys into climate change mandates, and geosequestration doesn't work, there will be far less call for our coal."

I think you will find if Australia digs it someone will buy it. Anyone taken any notice of the Chinese concern about the talked of BHP-RIO merger? Guess who might be holding that growth world in their hands?

John Pratt: "Globalisation was a flash in the pan. Peak Oil will drive re-localisation."

About ten thousand years is not a bad flash in the pan. Likely you are referring to trade barriers - which around one hundred years old before (presently) beginning to dissipate was the real flash in the pan.

The Coal Question

Paul Morrella said: I think you will find if Australia digs it someone will buy it. Anyone taken any notice of the Chinese concern about the talked of BHP-RIO merger? Guess who might be holding that growth world in their hands?

Unfortunately, there is a rush in the US and China to build as many coal-fired power plants as possible, before any future climate change mandates bite. This is an effort by both powers to insure their economic prosperity, by investing in the cheapest – but most polluting – electrical power generation method available.

The US has around 70Gt of coal reserves, not counting Montana, which has another 68Gt of reserves, but has so far chosen not to produce these reserves. This makes a total of around 138Gt for the US. China has around 88Gt of coal reserves, while Australia has around 50Gt of reserves.

In 2005, we exported over ten times more coal to Japan than China, although this is expected to change dramatically in the future. Australia is by far the world's largest coal exporter, with twice the exports of the next largest exporter, Indonesia. There are no other substantial coal reserves anywhere else in the world, excluding possibly the former Soviet Union, which has suffered a slump in production. It could have anything up to 100Gt.

I think it's a little early to jump to conclusions post-Kyoto 2012. If the US and China can cut an emissions deal – and that's very much up in the air – there may be a winding down of coal power generation worldwide. If the Democrats carry the 2009 US election with an increased majority, and I think they will, they have already indicated their desire to wind coal back.

Most of the gloomiest climate change predictions in the IPCC reports are predicated on the world using most of its reserves of oil, natural gas, coal, tar sands, oil shale, and in some projections even methane clathrates from the ocean. As production from the Canadian tar sands is already large and growing, and a number of countries have extensive research projects looking at the clathrates, it is entirely realistic for the IPCC to factor these unconventional fossil fuel sources into the projections.

What happens to Australia's on-going prospects for coal exports is, at this point, anyone's guess. For the US to cut an emissions deal with China, there would have to be extensive clean-technology interchange, fixed targets and shared responsibilities – all manner of carrots and sticks!

If "clean coal" won't scale up, or is too expensive to be practical, and the US-China deal flops, Australia will probably go on exporting its coal until it runs out (like the UKs is right now). Then our economic prosperity will drop like a stone.

Having a one-horse economy is very dangerous for Australia. Anyone who believes that coal is our future is already prepared to accept economic failure in the medium term... :(

Really?

Is he really claiming globalisation is ten thousand years old?  What planet is he on?

Petrol is Cheaper than Bottled Water

Paul Morella: "Energy being overly cheap is a myth."

Petrol currently sells for $1.30 to $1.40 a litre depending on where you live (including the 38c a litre excise). A litre of bottled water at your average service station costs about $3.00 including only 10c GST). If you take taxes out of the equation, that means petrol is almost one third the cost of bottled water. That's cheap by any measure Paul. Perhaps when petrol costs $3.00 a litre you can start calling it 'expensive'.

Is that a fact laddie?

Petrol at Shell Woolloomoloo today was 145.9 cpl (it has varied over the weeks from 135.9 to 145.9 without the Coles 4cpl "discount") at Drummoyne it was 132.9 at an independent.

Soda water at Coles is 95c for 1.25l.

"that means petrol is almost one third the cost of bottled water"

It actually means manufactured, transported, water, shipped much less efficiently than petrol is cheaper than petrol. Oh, and by the way, which would you rather drink? Sniffing of course is a different thing because the bubbles get up your nose.

How Much Energy is in the Water Malcolm?

Malcolm, I bet you my $1.30 litre of petrol can propel my 1.5 tonne car at least 15 kilometres, whereas your 95c 1.25 litre soda water will move it precisely nowhere (I will shout you the extra 250ml). And you call petrol 'expensive', laddie?

Energy, You Ask?

Only an idiot would pay $3 for a litre of excise-free drinking water. I know where you can get a litre of fair quality excise-free drinking whiskey for not much more. Irish of course. That British muck is for sponging wounds or ill-bred boors. What's more you can drive a tractor all afternoon on two litres of the stuff. Add a wick and you could start a revolution.

Do you really want to quibble with a lawyer about this?

I didn't call petrol 'expensive' you sassenach.

My bottle of water will get your car as far as you want it to go depending on the height from which I drop the water and the angle it hits your car (or in your case probably off-road-vehicle - I call them trains). Now there may be an energy cost getting it up there but, as Mr Orford never tires of reminding us, it's free. If the rain falls from a great enough height ...

[Yes, yes, friction, wind resistance etc - you think I'm some sort of cretin? Ideas have to be bold to be propounded then they have to be workable - wanna work laddie or just criticise? Chicken Little or little chicken like the rest of us?]

And you're bloody lucky a bee sting stopped all of my post getting through. I thought PMT was difficult. Wait until you get a waspish intention behind the knee. (Yah boo sucks to a certain moderator).

Now, I think we are getting somewhere on this thread and it might, with a lot of work and good will (and the odd acerbic comment) formulate a workable policy that no-one can gainsay. Wouldn't be the first time Australia has led the world.

So, for the last time: where is your cogent evidence? What is your practical solution? How do you pay for it?

Evidence, Solutions, Money

Malcolm B. Duncan: "... where is your cogent evidence? What is your practical solution? How do you pay for it?"

Cogent Evidence - Top 10

Practical Solutions and Funding - Top 10 (just about cost neutral by my reckoning)

  • Implement national peak oil public awarenes campaign.
  • Phase out government petroleum fuel/transport subsidies (currently totalling approximately $7.6 billion per annum).
  • Re-index fuel excise against CPI.
  • Federal Government provide $35 billion over 7 years ($5 billion per year), matched by the states on a dollar-for-dollar basis, for rapid construction of public transport and freight rail infrastructure. Place a moratorium on major new road developments that do not include peak oil impacts in their feasibility studies (i.e. all of them).
  • Feasibility study into high speed passenger rail connecting the eastern states capitals, with cooperation from federal govt, state govt and business. Phase out aviation fuel excise concessions once this project is underway.
  • Establish 90-day strategic petroleum reserve as per IEA/OECD criteria.
  • Introduce mandatory fuel efficiency standards for all passenger vehicles.
  • Establish a domestic market for natural gas (LNG/CNG) as an interim transport fuel.
  • Remove subsidies (including excise exemptions) and mandated targets for biofuels that use food crops; possibly replacing these with incentives for biofuels from waste or grown on non-productive land.
  • Regulate to prevent urban sprawl further displacing agricultural land at the rural urban interface.

How's that for a start laddie? And that's even before we go down the path of renewable energy (with obvious scope for electrified rail and public transport). It's amazing how much you can reduce a country's oil dependence with existing technology just by using what you've already got more efficiently.

RE: Evidence, Solutions, Money

Hi Stuart. You have some good ideas there. I don't know whether you'd get the fuel efficiency standards through, but if you did, GMH and others already sell fuel-efficient diesels – some with awesome MPG figures – into the European and Chinese markets. Others too, like Craig, have good ideas for local government education and lobbying. We'd also need business support, because if we go (long-term) with electric cars and a solar/geothermal/gas/wind grid, every parking station (commercial and private) will need to become a daytime recharging station.

Has anyone given any thought to what we do with a plan like this, should we even manage to finish it? Obviously, the first thought is it should go to government, perhaps through Penny Wong and/or Peter Garrett. Kevin Rudd is going to need some pretty good ideas to pay for our Kyoto commitments. Ross Garnaut may tidy up the cap and trade plan a bit, but I doubt he would have much of an energy plan to seriously reduce emissions. That will have to come from elsewhere.

Any ideas? Craig? Malcolm? Lionel?

Whither the Australian Motor Industry?

Ian McPherson: "I don't know whether you'd get the fuel efficiency standards through, but if you did, GMH and others already sell fuel-efficient diesels – some with awesome MPG figures – into the European and Chinese markets."

I think you're probably right re not getting fuel efficiency standards introduced, but there is no objective reason for this. Safety standards are regulated through ADRs, so there's no reason fuel efficiency shouldn't be - they're both for the common good.

Yes, there are some very good fuel eficient cars getting around - hybrids, turbo-diesels etc, however none of these are being built in Australia and sales are relatively low anyway. Average fuel efficiency for new passenger vehicles has actually worsened in the last five years. Why? The executives of the Australian motor industry have been paying more attention to the fantasy world(s) of their marketing departments than the real world inhabited by the rest of us. They have been seduced by their own propaganda that the a mum dropping the kids off at school needs a 4WD capable of crossing the Simpson Desert, and a commuter crawling along a conjested motorway needs a V8 capable of winning Bathurst.

The result is that the sheltered workshop that is our motor industry will likely go the way of the dinosaurs within a decade, and I will have little sympathy for them.

Let's say, hypothetically though, that I was king for a day and I did give a toss about the motor industry. This is what I would do:

1. Bring together motoring executives, oil & gas industry executives (who are evidently keen to establish a domestic gas market), automobile club executives, state and federal government representatives, financiers and biofuels researchers (caveated by my earlier comments about not supporting biofuels that threaten food security) and sundry other innovators who have a schmick about peak oil.

2. Tell them that they will receive generous tax concessions and other inducements if they start making (and posibly even exporting) plug-in hybrids, gas-electric hybrids, diesel-electric hybrids etc to meet a standard of say 5L/100km, introduce car-pooling and co-ownership schemes, and market these with the same enthusiasm that they have been marketing gas-guzzlers for the last couple of decades.

3. Give them 6 months to get fair-dinkum.

4. After 6 months, scrap duties on imported cars that fit the above criteria and tax/regulate the rest off the road.

As Lionel suggested above, the motor industry needed to have made a good start on this at least a decade ago. Bad luck for them that they didn't. Effort at trying to save them now is probably wasted. I'm directing my efforts to other aspects of the problem.

Credibility

Malcolm: “I don’t see much logical consistency in Mr Orford’s conflicting statements from time to time.” 

I really don’t get this slur on my credibility and I certainly don’t think such slurs gain you any credibility in a forum such as this. 

Maybe you can’t understand that even though I point out the failure of renewable energy development to date and the non-viability of existing technologies, that I still support potentially viable renewable energy technologies.   

Maybe you can’t understand that I’m not backing any particular proposed solution, rather I argue that we need to pursue everything that can potentially help save us.  

“If there is the crisis that so many doomsayers depict, now is the time for doing something about it.”  I heartily agree! 

In response to the request by Ian (& Malcolm a while ago) for specific policy initiatives, I haven’t changed my position greatly from that set out in my letter.  Here’s a review, with additional fleshing out in response to this forum: 

Policies with My Total Support:

Tell the Truth: we cannot undertake any real change before the electorate is aware that there is an urgent need for such change.  I’m really encouraged by the recent understanding of the global warming problem that is now breaking through the barricades of denial to become part of the public consciousness. 

Build a National Electric Rail System:  Not only is this the most effective step in significantly reducing our dependence on petroleum, it is also a way to significantly reduce our greenhouse emissions as well, due to the large increase in efficiency of rail compared to road and air transport.  It is also a long term policy.  It must be noted that such a large government investment cannot be made during the current boom because the effects would be inflationary and exacerbate skills shortages.  However, the planning and design phase can start now. 

A Large Investment in Renewable Energy Research and Development:  There is major potential in Solar Thermal with heat storage and Hot Rock Geothermal electricity generation and these should be vigorously pursued.  It should be understood from the outset that these energy sources will be very expensive and never likely to be viable on the same scale as current dirt cheap energy sources. 

Conserve What We Have Left:  This is by far the most politically difficult policy, but also the most inevitable.  The problem is twofold:

1.      Availability of energy is “standard of living”.  Most of us love our food from all over the world, our overseas holidays, our consumer goods, our air conditioning, our abundant meats and most of all our personal freedom of movement. 

2.      Real reductions in energy use mean real reductions in GDP – real reductions in coal mining, all mining, consumer goods, air travel, tourism, manufacturing and so on.  This means the end of the growth based economy and the effects cannot be flippantly dismissed as they involve gross unemployment and financial ruin for many thousands of people.  I contend that this is the primary reason that the USA and Australia rejected the Kyoto Protocol. 

I contend that the most effective and equitable way to conserve our energy resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and facilitate the development of low carbon energy infrastructure is by means of a tradable personal carbon quota system.  http://www.carbonequity.info/rationingidea.html When you buy fuel, electricity, consumer goods, imported food, etc, you would pay money and some of your carbon quota.  Under such a system, those who were frugal in their energy consumption would benefit from the sale of their excess quota and profligate users would be pay through the nose to purchase additional quota.  Each year the allocation of quota would ratchet down another notch. 

This is far preferable to a carbon tax, which would be devastating to the poor and inconsequential to the rich.  Such social inequity breeds social unrest and class warfare. 

The economic downside of this could be somewhat mitigated by the stimulation of low carbon emission technologies and government investment in the development of long term solutions. 

Carbon Capture and Storage: Much as I dislike coal and it’s carbon emissions, I maintain that practicality rather than ideology should rule the day. 

We have no other energy source to maintain our needs as oil depletion takes hold, to provide for the increase in electricity needed to power an electric transport system and to provide the energy investment to build renewable energy systems.  Hence we have to do our best to capture and store the CO2 that is inevitably generated from burning coal.  This technology is in its infancy, its problems are many and it may never work, but we must give it our best shot. 

Policies with My Qualified Support:

Hybrid and Electric Cars:  These suffer from a few problems.

1.     Peak Oil is here now (acknowledging the unlikely prospect of a surge of supply efforts that could increase supply and extend Peak by a year or 3) and hybrid and electrics are not.  The Hirsch Report very credibly argues that in order to implement such mitigation efforts we would need to start 1 to 2 decades ahead of Peak Oil – we didn’t do it. 

2.      The life cycle energy and carbon emissions of these vehicles is higher than an equivalent light weight high efficiency vehicles such as a Mazda323 verses a Toyota Prius at around 1.4 of the lifecycle energy. 

3.      It doesn’t break the addiction to personal vehicles: it’s like a heroin junkie changing to methadone. 

Compressed Natural Gas for Automotive Fuel:   Now our junkie raids the doctor’s surgery for the finest pharmaceutical grade morphine.   Yeah – it’s good – but it ain’t gonna last long. 

Natural Gas is a finite and precious resource that we will really regret just blowing away for a few more years of binge indulgence.  Also, it will take about a decade to roll out the infrastructure and we don’t have a decade – my bet is that we have less than a year before PO really bites. 

Coal to Liquids: Now our junkie turns to expensive dirty low grade heroine to maintain his addiction.  I really regret including this in my letter to the PM – I fucked up.  Sorry about that.  Unfortunately, desperate times call for desperate measures – Hitler did it, the South Africans did it when excluded from the world oil trade during apartheid and remain the foremost technological power in this field.  (Google “Sasol”) So, I guess that we’ll do it. Just as for Hitler, it won’t solve the problem – it’s simply not feasible to build enough production to match the declines that are already happening and will accelerate. 

Biofuels:  Now our junkie tries aroma therapy to break his addiction.  I support the use of biofuels, providing that no further harm is done.  The harm currently being done pursuing this pseudo cure is immense:

·        Subsidies handed to American farmers to produce less useable energy from ethanol than the energy that went into making it. 

·        Vast areas of equatorial rainforest habitat being destroyed for Palm Oil

·        Vast areas of the Amazon basin destroyed to escalate Brazils sugar cane production to provide about 30% of their fuel consumption.

·        Pursuing biofuels is already seeing the world’s poor unable to afford staples such as corn – so that we can use it to power our outrageous consumption.

·        Ridiculous expectations generated amonst concerned members of the public who naively believe that this is a “solution” – including some participants in this forum. 

However, if as many farmers that have the practical capacity to produce canola oil or something else that can power their tractor, then go for it.  I have no objection to anything that works and isn’t morally bankrupt. 

New Technology Fast Breeder Nuclear Reactors: Desperate times.  Our junkie has the opportunity to participate in a trail of a new synthetic heroine, with restricted access and unknown side effects. 

I only support this because I cannot see how we can provide for the population of the planet any other way.  We are totally energy dependant and this is the only way I can propose to avoid a mass die off – an alternate means of returning the human population of the planet to a sustainable level.  The death of billions is at stake and I don’t think any of us would willingly pursue that as a solution – particularly when the grim reaper may call me – or you.    

I intend this to be my final post on this topic, although I may be goaded into further responses to a challenge of sufficient intellectual calibre. 

Next topic from me:  Dealing with the economic challenge of decline – with what do we replace the growth economy?  I don’t shy away from the big issues.  If anybody wishes to provide well thought thru input on this topic; go to Lino’s Place – my little speakeasy. 

Cheers everybody - it's been intellectually invigorating

No Impact Man

This is a link to a blog by an American calling himself No Impact Man who set out to see if for a year he could no net impact on the environment.  I guess he knew from the outset that he would fail. 

He (being an American) is going to write a book about it.

His conclusion so far is that his quality of life improved.

If even an American can come up with this kind of conclusion there is some room for hope (though maybe not a whole lot).

One of the things I love about Webdiary

Every now and then someone provides a link to a website that makes me go "Wow". 

Thanks, Evan, for sharing the link to No Impact Man (saved to My Favourites in a flash).

Not So Simple

Ian McPherson: "Paul's carbon tax on the rich is ideal, as we'd have no real need for a cap and trade system, as we would just phase out our coal plants as they reach decommission age to meet our Kyoto targets."

What I wrote was a consumption tax on everything that is consumed. It is pointless aiming it at only rich people - a lot less of them. If people are serious about this subject they would understand large scale wealth distribution would be the worst possible scenerio. Isn't economic growth the biggest complaint when talking all things climate change?

PS The Australian economy domestically is made up of 3% agriculture and mining. The same industries account for 68% of exports (wealth growth). Without such  industries there is little hope of Australia having anywhere near the domestic market where most of its people are employed. There is little hope of Australia remaining a first world nation. There is frankly little hope of Australia being considered at such a time anything other than a global backwater. Sorry.

Consumption Tax

What I wrote was a consumption tax on everything that is consumed. It is pointless aiming it at only rich people - a lot less of them. If people are serious about this subject they would understand large scale wealth distribution would be the worst possible scenerio. Isn't economic growth the biggest complaint when talking all things climate change?

I understand. I think we could be reasonably assured that the more affluent would be the last to curb their consumption, therefore the tax would have the correct effect. But why tax everything, rather than just electricity, oil products, inefficient electrical products, cars, petrol, transport, road use and perhaps water usage? It seems unnecessary to tax food or medicine, for instance, as some of the oil products that are involved in their production may already be taxed anyway. It would also be helpful if the tax acted as a driver for more efficient electrical products, more efficient cars, etc., so it would need to be selective.

PS The Australian economy domestically is made up of 3% agriculture and mining. The same industries account for 68% of exports (wealth growth). Without such  industries there is little hope of Australia having anywhere near the domestic market where most of its people are employed. There is little hope of Australia remaining a first world nation. There is frankly little hope of Australia being considered at such a time anything other than a global backwater. Sorry.

That may occur regardless. Australian agricultural grain output is predicted to fall dramatically by 2050 due to climate change, which may reduce our exports by up to 70% (ABARE). We may simply not have enough output to export and still feed ourselves.

And, if the world buys into climate change mandates, and geosequestration doesn't work, there will be far less call for our coal. The quality of the Australian ore deposits is falling anyway, and David Rutledge from Caltech estimates that ALL conventional fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) will reach 90% exhaustion, worldwide, by 2076. We have a limited window of opportunity, geologically speaking, for our coal sales anyway. When it's gone, it's truly gone forever.

It's ultimately the same story with our uranium exports. They'll probably be depleted this century too.

That is why a strong renewable energy industry has such potential. We will need something we're very good at to replace the depletion of our mineral deposits and falling agricultural output. Otherwise it's back to Banana Republic status... :(

Paradigms change overnight. Be ready for it!

Ten Principles of Post Oil-Peak Planning

  1. The laws of thermodynamics: no free lunch, death and taxes.
  2. Protect arable land at all costs. (And don’t waste it growing biodiesel.)
  3. Moving stuff around is really hard. The basic purpose of a city is to avoid doing so.
  4. Every new development should pass the $500-A-Barrel Test.
  5. Globalisation was a flash in the pan. Peak Oil will drive re-localisation.
  6. Adaptation is 90% conservation. We will use a lot less energy, period.
  7. Electricity is omnivorous and adaptable. There’ll never be much, but (almost) always something.
  8. Perform triage and palliative care on areas that cannot or will not adapt.
  9. Prepare both a long-range plan and an emergency plan.
  10.  Paradigms change overnight. Be ready for it!

On Webdiary do we at last we have a consensus on Climate Change and Peak Oil?  Have all the naysayers left the field? If this is the new situation may I suggest that the Ten Principles of Post Peak Oil planning may be a guide for future discussions.

Want A Curb On Consumption?

 John Pratt and Malcolm B Duncan

But to answer your question, a tax on carbon would be a good start. The economy would be based on rebuilding our infrastructure to a more energy efficient self sustaining system. Increase taxes, bring in rationing. Just like it was in WWII.

If this route were to be taken the easiest option would be a tax on consumption. Those that consume the most should pay the most (carrot and stick if you will). Naturally the wealthiest amongst us may not necessarily end up paying the most - thus making the situation highly political and probably impossible to implement. Easily the best and most legitimate way of curbing consumption if that is what one truly seeks to achieve.

The move to the post carbon world.

Local governments have strong financial incentives to address peak oil and climate change. Reducing local oil dependence and carbon emissions means pursuing energy-efficient buildings, locally-controlled energy sources, compact transit-oriented land uses, alternative transportation modes and other aims that are energy prudent, and thus ultimately fiscally conservative. When the challenges created by peak oil and climate change are not future risks but present problems, those communities that have prepared will have distinct advantages over those that haven't.

Local governments are well-positioned to address peak oil and climate change because they have influence over three key areas of urban spatial and economic development:

» Building construction and energy efficiency. Through zoning codes, building codes and the permitting process, municipalities can encourage building designs that save energy and resources.

» Local land use and transportation patterns. Municipal land use and transportation planning decisions directly influence whether people and businesses will have mobility choices that allow them to save energy and money.

» Local economic activity. Municipal economic development initiatives are opportunities to encourage development in low-energy, zero-carbon directions, by both incentive and example.

There are plenty of things that can be done. All it needs is the political will to take action. We must keep the pressure on all our political leaders to act and act fast. It is not all about new technology: the fastest reductions can be made just by regulation to a more energy efficient world.

Step 1 - More locals more interested in their council

I think local governments will be better positioned to address peak oil and climate change when local communities take more interest in their own local governments and learn how to make the most of the "corporate" component of it (in contrast to the "elected" component), especially on the strategic stuff.

When it comes to the strategic stuff we can almost forget about the "elected" component, the councillors, as all too often they lack strategic vision and they become not much more than part of a complaint-handling mechanism attending to the persistent "squeaky wheels" who generally focus on insignificant issues.

Local communities need to learn how to influence the one key strategic decision the "elected" component gets to make every couple of years. 

That's the decision on who heads the "corporate" component that actually does stuff with the community's funds. 

If communities got smart they'd see that they need to be electing those representatives who'll make a wise (sometimes courageous) decision on the CEO's contract. 

Cities for Climate Protection

If you want your local council to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the environment as well as facilitate the efforts of the communities they serve, then a place to start is to look up its current Cities for Climate Protection progress.

If your local council is only at one of the early milestones, then contact your councillors and ask them what they'll be doing to ensure the CEO leads the "corporate" component of your local council in a way that it will make it to the later milestones quicker.

Socialist Evil

Ian McPherson: "Why is it, Paul, that you view every co-operative initiative as socialism?"

In regards to many things being written on this thread that is exactly what it is. The oil depletion site has a very happy article on the Cuban lifestyle - just a little too happy. It talks up a lot more than just home grown vegetables.

 And why do you hate socialists so much, anyway?

I don't hate socialists. I hate the socialist system. I see it equivalent to a military dictatorship - actually both evolve into exactly the same way. Human beings may be social creatures; however, they also have a large individual streak. Socialism is about destroying that individual streak thus denying to us what it is to be truly human.

Most varieties of socialism implicitly assume unanimous agreement on goals. Everyone works for the glory of the nation, the common good, or whatever, and everyone agrees, at least in some general sense, on what that goal means. The economic problem, traditionally defined as the problem of allocating limited resources to diverse ends, does not exist; economics is reduced to the "engineering" problem of how best to use the available resources to achieve the common end.

The organization of a capitalist society implicitly assumes that different people have different ends and that the institutions of the society must allow for that difference.

This is one of the things behind the socialist claim that capitalism emphasizes competition whereas socialism emphasizes cooperation; it is one of the reasons why socialism seems, in the abstract, to be such an attractive system. If we all have different ends, we are, in a certain sense, in conflict with each other; each of us wishes to have the limited resources available used for his ends. The institution of private property allows for cooperation within that competition; we trade with each other in order that each may best use his resources to his ends, but the fundamental conflict of ends remains. Does this mean that socialism is better? No more than the desirability of sunny weather means that women should always wear bikinis or that men should never carry umbrellas.

There is a difference between what institutions allow and what they require. If in a capitalist society everyone is convinced of the desirability of one common goal, there is nothing in the structure of capitalist institutions to prevent them from cooperating to attain it. Capitalism allows for a conflict of ends; it does not require it.

Socialism does not allow for it. This does not mean that if we set up socialist institutions everyone will instantly have the same ends. The experiment has been tried; they do not. It means rather that a socialist society will work only if people do have the same ends. If they do not it will collapse or, worse, develop, as did the Soviet Union, into a monstrous parody of socialist ideals.

The experiment has been done many times on a more modest scale in this country. Communes that survive start with a common end, whether provided by a strong religion or a charismatic leader. Others do not.

Why I know we can.

Malcolm, your ideological grid for this thread is a welcome intitiative.  Reading the spread of positions sometimes becomes a little exhausting, so thanks.

My optimism for the future is as much based on what has been happening on Webdiary as much as anything else.  The concept of "citizen journalism" and the informed if sometimes arduous debate is exactly what is required.  In other words the model we need is the one we are developing ... radical democracy.

I may one day begin a thread on "why I used to be a socialist" to assist in the liberation of those who still are and the liberation of those who are still frightened of those who are, but not yet.

In the meantime let me assure any doomsdayers that my optimism is not characterological; I grew up on the docks in Newcastle in an environment that would've made Jean Genet blanch.  An optimistic frame of mind is earned currency.

Please do Anthony

Anthony: "I may one day begin a thread on "why I used to be a socialist" to assist in the liberation of those who still are and the liberation of those who are still frightened of those who are..."

Please do Anthony. I for one am interested.

So what do you all do?

My only conspicuous consumption of power that produces carbon dioxide is home use electricity. I use 0.4 of a tonne per three months. Or 1.6 tonnes per annum.

I think the yearly average per Australian is 20 tonnes. So what the hell are the critics and carpers doing to cut down?

Walk, ride a bike, turn of the lights, use low emissions products, can the plasma TV, catch a bus or a train.

What are you doing to help? If 21 million people do their bit to cut their average use in half we will stop spewing out hundreds of millions of tonnes of CO2 per year.

Start planting trees instead of useless flowers. Revert hot water and cooking to gas. It ain't that hard folks.

I think we can

Malcolm B Duncan, I'm not sure why you put me into the, "I know we can't" box. I think my contributions have offered solutions such as more efficient use of existing energy (see my post on the Toyota Prius). I also held out the possibility of Thorium technology. I think I belong in the "I think we can" box. The issue might be, what are we trying to do? If the issues are Peak Oil and Climate Change I believe we can achieve at least a forty per cent reduction in our use of fossil fuels just by being more efficient. Another example of the way forward.

The aXcessaustralia LEV had the performance of a conventional vehicle, but with half the fuel consumption and 90 per cent less pollution.

We are focusing on research to halve GHG emissions and double the efficiency of Australia’s new energy generation technologies.

Bring It On.

Socialism... just give it a different name. The greatest US president FDR called it the New Deal. It was pure socialism and dragged the US out of a debilitating collapse caused by rampant carpetbaggers and unfettered corporate overlords.

The USA has always had greater aspects of socialism than Australia - greater restraints upon big business to act as a law unto itself. The remnants of those who brought us the great Depression have never forgiven FDR as a class traitor and have succeeded largely, from Ronnie Reagan onwards, in dismantling his legacy. Sad, as FDR's actions led to America's greatest era of prosperity which now looks like collapsing spectacularly.

The only discussion really is just when, not if, socialism is going to sweep the world.

Socialism

Hi Michael. You say:

The only discussion really is just when, not if, socialism is going to sweep the world.

That's a big statement, but for me the FDR example confused rather than clarified what you mean by socialism. Can you explain the term as you're using it?

The Socialist Alliance 10-point climate action plan

1. Aim for 60% overall emissions reduction,including 95% power station emissions reduction, by 2020, and 90% overall emissions reduction by 2030. Immediate
comprehensive planning, including annual targets of 4-5% or more, to meet these targets on time or sooner.
2. Ratify the Kyoto treaty and initiate a further international treaty and mutual assistance program to bring other countries together to meet a global target of 90%
emissions reductions on 1990 levels by 2030. Focus on cutting rich industrial nations' emissions as a priority, and supply non-polluting means of industrial and social development to poorer countries.
3. Start the transition to a zero-waste economy. In the first place, establish an energy auditing department to investigate industrial energy waste and recommend
legislation or other measures to end it, including improving or banning wasteful consumer products such as those with
built-in obsolescence. Engage workers in industry to redesign their products and jobs sustainably, in consultation with the appropriate technical experts.
4. Set a minimum 10-star energy efficiency rating for all new buildings. Require the fitting of all feasible energy efficiency measures to existing houses upon lease changes, building renovations, etc., and subsidise owner-occupiers for the costs. Allow renters to use the same system. Immediately begin a program to install photo-voltaic solar panels and solar hot water heaters on home roofs, subsidised or owned by the electricity authority. Give commercial buildings a deadline to meet six-star energy standards within two years, and 10-star standards within 10 years.
5. Bring all power industries under public ownership and democratic control. Begin phasing out coal mining and power immediately. Ensure a fair transition plan
(including guaranteed jobs and retraining on full pay) for coal mining and power-station worker communities, with new sustainable industries being built in their areas
and paid redundancies offered. Run the maximum possible base-load power from existing natural gas and/or hydro power stations instead of coal, as an interim measure until renewable energy can take over. Coal to be used only for predicted energy peaks in the short term until renewable energy sources replace first it, and then the natural gas power stations as well.
6. Bring the immense manufacturing potential of the auto industry under public control. Re-tool this industry for manufacturing wind turbines, public transport vehicles
and infrastructure, solar hot water, solar photo-voltaic cells, etc., and for converting existing cars to electric power. Subsidise the conversion of private cars to electric, plus buy back and recycle unneeded vehicles.
7. Immediately begin constructing wind farms in suitable areas. Fund research into further wind, solar photovoltaic cells, geothermal, concentrating solar thermal, waste
biomass fuel, wave and tidal generation sources, with pilot solar-thermal and geothermal plants set up immediately. Create a power grid with distributed, diversified electricity generation for stability and efficiency.
8. End industrial farming based on fossil-fuel fertilisers, pesticides and fuels. Restrict farming areas to ensure that riverine, forest and other indigenous ecosystems
return to healthy states. Assist farming to be transferred to organic practices and decentralised to include urban farming. This process must be undertaken at a rate
that ensures food security, and guarantees continuing work and livelihood for farming communities.
9. Stop logging old-growth forests and begin an urgent program of re-forestation and protecting biodiversity to ensure a robust biosystem that can survive the stress
of climate change and provide an increased carbon sink.
10. Make all urban and regional public transport free and upgrade the network to enable all urban residents to use it for all their regular commuting. Nationalise and upgrade interstate train and ferry services, while making them cheaper than air travel. Reduce reliance on air travel while ensuring equal but limited access, and aim to replace air travel with trains (and ferries on Bass Strait). As much freight as possible to be moved to rail. All rail and light rail to be electrified, other public transport and freight to run on electric motors or biofuels from waste where possible. Encourage bicycle use through more cycleways, bike racks on public transport and more public shower facilities. Implement free or very cheap bicycle rental networks, as in Barcelona and other European cities.

If we  now agree that Climate Change and Peak Oil are threats to our economic future and possibly to the future of the planet. We need to act now. Forget the war on terror and the war on drugs - we have a real battle to focus on - the fight for our lives. It seems to me that the Socialist Alliance has a good ten point plan to begin with.  

Malcolm, this is a plan "I think we can" achieve if we are willing to change.

Open Letter to PM

I thought I’d take the liberty of (selectively) reviewing what I see as the main themes from this thread.  If anyone wants to edit it, a lot of text could be substituted for links but I rather think juxtaposition (albeit at length) has its own merits.  I have added my own typically acerbic comments in square brackets.  I’ve also taken the liberty of classifying contributors according to the Little Train Model.  If you disagree with the way I’ve classified you, feel free to have a go at me but, I note, the doomsayers are in the distinct minority – maybe there is hope after all.

 

I know we can’t

 

I think I can

 

I know I can

 

Lionel Orford

 

Me

 

Anthony Nolan

 

Alga Kavanagh

 

 

peter hindrup

 

John Pratt

 

Michael de Angelos

 

Daniel Smythe

 

 

Evan Hadkins

 

 

 

Ian McPherson

 

 

 

Ian MacDougall

 

 

 

Robyn Clothier

 

 

 

Paul Morrella

 

 

 

Extracts from posts:

I must stress that I fully support major initiatives in renewable energy development, energy conservation and a global plan of action through the UN because these are the correct actions to mitigate the crises being brought about Global Warming and by Peak Oil.

There are simply no alternatives to oil – no combination that can be obtained fast enough and in sufficient quantities to replace the dwindling supply.

Step 1. Tell the Truth

Step 2. Start Planning for Major Infrastructure Works

Massive investment in renewable energy. The most promising technologies here are solar thermal with heat storage and geothermal. There is no point in developing large scale intermittent resources such as wind, photovoltaic and wave power because such intermittent generation cannot be managed on a large scale.

Step 3. Start conserving what we have left

Step 4. Get our best and brightest onto developing long term solutions

A new economic system

We need an entirely new economic system which must be able to

  • function effectively without economic growth
  • function to equitably share resources in a world of declining resources
  • enable the development of local communities that are largely self sufficient
  • facilitate depopulation of the planet
  • restore planetary ecosystems

A new energy system

Thorium is a vast resource, capable of providing our energy needs for millennia. This is a large technical undertaking that will take decades, but the long term need for it is really beyond question.

Lionel Orford 3/12/07

Moving to small self sufficient communities is obviously required, but this will take generations to achieve and is only possible after major population reduction.  Any volunteers to be first?

The problem - we don't yet have these technologies and they will have problems and they will be very expensive.

Lionel Orford on December 7, 2007

I am criticising the idea Malcolm, as I do not believe it has been adequately thought through. I am actually supportive of many parts of the idea. But I genuinely think that you underestimate the technical and computing issues involved, the storage dilemma and the intermittency problems.

Keep thinking about it Malcolm – there's no reason it can't change or be modified to be better.

Ian McPherson on December 8, 2007

around $133.7billion for the solar panels. No construction, no transmission infrastructure, just the solar panels. (I'm not sure this many solar panels exist, by the way).

Ian McPherson on December 9

[Now, remind me, we were going to have $56B in tax cuts and hand-outs and the Sun-Herald reports today that we are going to spend $36B on Christmas.  GST inclusive that’s $105B in your terms without any infrastructure bonds – seems easily doable to me – MBD].

Hydrogen is the logical, simple answer to fuel.

peter hindrup on December 9

I am an electrical engineer with significant experience in seeking to bring renewable energy sources to market.  The primary reason that the last 30 years of effort in this area has produced almost nothing useful is that it doesn't satisfy either of the fundemental requirements of any engineering project - it must work reliably and must make a return on capital investment required to build it.

Problem 1: Capital Cost.

Problem 2: Intermittent Generation

Lionel Orford on December 10

[The “I’m an expert argument” – use it myself sometimes but only when justified.  The point is, who provides the capital, how and over how long does one expect the return?  Governments are uniquely suited to large infrastructure expenditure at the beginning of a project and profit over its lifetime – remember the Harbour Bridge?  That’s why they get greedy and sell them off once they show a profit.  Keep the profit I say.  MBD]

When you have to pay 5 times as much for your electricity, then the only economic option is use far less of it.  This is exactly what we see when people use solar panels to power their house - extreme energy frugality.  

The economics of our current system are based on cheap and abundant energy.  Those economics do not function when the energy inputs are 3 to 5 times higher.  

So again - the only thing we can do is to use less - much less.  To have a much lower standard of living as it generally understood.  

Lionel Orford on December 12

We are in very deep trouble indeed and we don't know how to fix it.  My suggestions to the PM are aimed at the immediate responses to keep the ship afloat so that we can make to maximise our chances of making landfall somewhere survivable.  The actions are:

  • admit the problem
  • conserve the rations
  • patch the ship however we can without making things worse
  • navigate towards land

I doubt that we're all going to make it.  

Also - our rations of coal are nowhere near the conventional belief of "hundreds of years" as quoted by George Monbiot and many others. The Energy Watch Group assessment of decades coal is far more credible.  The knock on conclusion that there is insufficient carbon fuel to attain even the lowest levels of emissions modelled by the IPCC.  George's extreme scenario isn't feasible.  

Lionel Orford on December 12

Humans may well be the most stupid species on the planet but to claim that they are incapable of going back to a more sustainable, semi-rural, non-materialistic  lifestyle is absurd. If the choice is that or perishing then there is clearly no option and the majority of humans will adapt and quickly.

Daniel Smythe on December 12

I must stress here that I am a supporter of renewable energy development - but they must be useful forms of renewable energy.

[Could have fooled me – MBD]

What does work?

Well - nothing at the moment, but there are some promising things being developed.

1. Solar thermal with heat storage. This enables electricity to be generated as required from stored heat. The first of these was the "Solar Two" power tower. David Mills is also working on anther form of concentrating solar thermal with heat storage, which shows promise. There is another type of system going ahead in Cloncurry, Qld.

2. Hot rock geothermal power. This uses the heat in hot rock formations that are comparatively close to the surface - 5km or less.

3. CO2 capture and storage. This is not renewable energy, but one form of the so called "clean coal" technologies. The technology is in its infancy and the problems are many. If it ever works at all, it is decades away from significant reductions.

There are two drawbacks to all these systems - 1. we haven't got them yet and all have technical problems. 2. They will be extremely expensive.

However, as these are the only viable long term options we have found, they should be pursued as fast as possible.

So what can we do?

We must conserve energy - that's right - use less, much less. This requires energy rationing, I would suggest by a quota system. That way people who make cuts in their energy use can sell their exess quota. This would create a net transfer of wealth from rich to poor.

Lionel Orford on December 14

[In reply to my request for a practical solution for the next 3 year cycle, we got this:]

As far as practical suggestions for the next three year cycle - I refer you to my letter to the PM - which started all this.

Lionel Orford on December 15

[Now the problem remains: Mr Orford just doesn’t want to commit to a costed policy framework.  I’m buggered if I know why.  He claims to be an expert and a failure.  Maybe it’s time for the experts to move over and give failure the flick.  Why is it that I get the impression that, had he served in WWII in New Guinea, he would have been on Blamey’s staff instead of shooting the enemy?]

Summing up, I don’t see much logical consistency in Mr Orford’s conflicting statements from time to time.  If there is the crisis that so many doomsayers depict, now is the time for doing something about it.  Let’s get cracking.  The other funding options:  A Commonwealth Bank (which is immediately viable because the Commonwealth pays everything through it); a Commonwealth Insurance Office; a Commonwealth Broadband/Satellite Infrastructure which sells capacity to the privatised industry – watch Trujillo cope with that one.

RE: Open Letter to PM

Malcolm, to be fair to Lionel, he is still correct. We don't have electric cars; we don't even have that many hybrids. We don't have thorium reactors; we don't even have uranium-powered nuclear reactors. We don't have geosequestration; we have one pilot program and a little bit of research. We don't have reliable wind energy; and we have no large scale wind energy with built-in storage. The same is true of solar energy; we again have no large scale solar with storage.

All we have is a network of dirty coal- and slight-less-dirty gas-powered plants, that will spew CO2 until they're decommissioned. And a just-in-time, oil-powered road distribution system for our consumables that will dramatically escalate in cost over the next few decades.

The problems we face are not only daunting, they are potentially unsolvable within the next 50 years. Bright ideas are a dime a dozen, and the ones that finally survive to be funded usually deliver less than they promised. If we don't want to hear this, it's not Lionel's fault. He's just the messenger; we're the ones sleepwalking into the future.

If I'm in your "I think I can" column, it's only because I refuse to give in, and believe that we can only approach these problems with a positive attitude. But it's still true that we need genuine scientific breakthroughs in around four different areas of energy production, and we needed them all yesterday!

Developing a zero-carbon energy system and a zero-carbon transport system may be the most formidable challenges the human race has ever faced. It will greatly test our skills, imagination and inventiveness. But there are no promises we will succeed. I wouldn't be taking any bets on the outcome, at this stage...

Here we go again

Ian McPherson - who wants to be fair? Just do it. Massive R&D? OK, do it.

John Pratt, how do you pay for it?

Desert Power

OK Malcolm, these guys (TREC – Clean Power from Deserts) have a plan to use concentrating solar power (CSP) and geothermal power produced in the desert area around northwest NSW, southwest Queensland and northeast South Australia. These plants could be funded by the utilities instead of any new coal-fired plants, and co-located, to assist in economies of scale.

The plan would join the QLD, NSW and SA grids together, which would eliminate $1.4-2.6 billion worth of losses imposed on the national economy by state electricity "price separation". This would fund the high capacity DC cables connecting the grids in around a year. Obviously, a plan for Western Australia would be similar, but smaller in scale and concerned only with WA.

Natural gas-powered powered peaking plants could back this system up until we figure out something better. There should be a ban on any new coal-fired power plants. Some of John Pratt's ideas for public transport could be initiated too. Running light-rail anywhere we can will help get people out of their cars and into public transport. Making public transport free is a good idea too. Paul's carbon tax on the rich is ideal, as we'd have no real need for a cap and trade system, as we would just phase out our coal plants as they reach decommission age to meet our Kyoto targets.

We're also going to need CSP plants on the coast to desalinate seawater, close to population centers to cut down on pipeline costs. Any excess electricity can go into the grid, or into compressed air storage to help balance the grid. Compressed air wind turbines can be employed anywhere it is practical, with the air being pumped into pipelines. This can also help balance the grid, as it is not a primary source of electricity.

Now all we need is the electric cars and trucks. That might be a little more difficult. Long distance and heavy freight trucks may have to be gas/electric hybrids, until the technology improves. But with cars we should go straight to electric and skip the petrol/electric hybrids. Full EVs are less expensive, less complex, require less maintenance and are ideal for commuting. Fast electric trains can minimise interstate air travel, and a coastal system of freight barges could help minimise interstate trucking.

Obviously government can help, by helping eliminate the waste and allowing the state grids to join together. They could also offer incentives to move to electric cars, as it will take anything up to 20 years to replace our cars and trucks with a new generation of electric vehicles. Bicycle paths should be introduced wherever possible, and car pooling subsidised. University courses on all things renewable should be introduced, and commercial research funded through the university system. TAFE courses could also be offered for those people re-skilling for the new industries.

Oil and gas companies should immediately invest in geothermal, as it uses drilling and assessment technology they are already comfortable with. Unless they have any better ideas, they would be advised to also invest in solar and wind powered renewable energy systems (heck, I might as well throw in tide and wave while I'm at it). Many of the components are imported. They can make them here instead, and export them. Oil and gas can't last forever, guys. Your industries are destined by geology to dwindle to nothing.

I think I'll stop there. This is politically unpalatable enough for one day... :)

To do nothing is to die, in war you pay the price.

Malcolm, we are in a "war" to save the planet, in a real war. The last question we would ask is, how do we pay for it? You fight the fight and when you have won the war, you pick up the pieces. But to answer your question, a tax on carbon would be a good start. The economy would be based on rebuilding our infrastructure to a more energy efficient self sustaining system. Increase taxes, bring in rationing. Just like it was in WWII.

We have no time to waste, the phony war is over. It is now time to act.

We have got rid of our Chamberlain. Let's hope Rudd is our Churchill.

Comprende?

Ian McPherson: "This is a co-operative idea, not a crazy one-man conspiracy theory, complete with one-world-government armed enforcers."

Well I just sorta thought they might like to police their idea - guess not. Suppose it can be like Kyoto where everyone signs up then begins ignoring what they signed up for. Keeps the symbolism crowd happen and everyone else for that matter - business as usual.

Will make a change watching the good folk from lone star state actually cheering Mexicans hopping the border - with barrels of "above quota oil" strapped on their backs. 

Earth To Ian: The most powerful guv-ment in the world is headed by George Bush. And there are plenty more just like him, waiting in the wings, for the right opportunity to come along. Forcefully pushing an unwanted lifestyle on people gives such an opportunity.

Why Sense Will Finally Prevail

 Ian McPherson: "Paul, the word is unfettered."

Thanks.

Your second sentence is virtually incomprehensible.

I believe you know the meaning of what was written.

Watch your mouth, Paul. I am neither confused nor deluded.

Well I think what your theories are a little crazy. I find it hard to believe the majority of the world could take any of it terribly seriously. Even if they did it would take guys just like me to make the alternative work. All I'm asking for is a sensible revision.

The Cycle of Socialism:

  • The workers (customers) will move toward it seeing the paradise. FAILED.
  • It was constantly undermined and untruths were told. FAILED
  • Yes it is crap but there is no other alternative. WILL FAIL.

Believe it or not, a poorly performing business, goes through the exact same cycle.

All Over The Shop...

Why is it, Paul, that you view every co-operative initiative as socialism? And why do you hate socialists so much, anyway? There are far more pervasive evils in this world, like military dictatorships, suicide bombers, drug cartels and warlords – the list goes on. Why save all your hatred for the socialists? It makes you unreasonable.

If your alternative is unilateralism, pre-emptive resource wars and (as you say) unfettered capitalism, what exactly have you brought to the table anyway? An unsustainable, planet-polluting mess? Surely the idea is to learn from our mistakes, holding no particular political dogma as sacred, in an effort to improve all our lives?

Is capitalism, funded and corrupted by corporate business interests, the fossil fuel lobbies, the financial system and other vested interests, any more successful a political model than socialism? We are starting to see some very serious flaws in this plan, flaws that will need to be removed if we are to survive on this planet.

Capitalism has a problem, Paul: it doesn't tidy up its room. It doesn't dispose of its nuclear waste. It doesn't plan for resource depletion. It doesn't deal with "externalities"; it rejects them out of hand and hands them back to the public with a price tag. It doesn't want to pay for pollution, and it certainly does not want to pay for climate change.

It supports dictatorships for money and key resources. It pays wheat kickbacks to dictators and rewards the corrupt to get what it wants. It arms its friends, some of whom are despots, and intimidates its enemies, many of whom do not threaten it. It exports jobs, and whole industries, to third world countries to save a buck. At the end of the day, capitalism shits in its own nest.

You're all over the shop mate. Nothing's perfect in this world, and capitalism is no exception. Try adopting a more balanced view. It will improve the quality of our exchanges.

foetid. (no time for sloganeering)

Paul Morella, these blokes, Orford and McPherson, have written fairly detailed posts pertaining to real world problems and solutions being put forward mediated against the current political climate.

It's like the Titanic. When the boat is going down abstract theological neolib musings, as apologetics for selfishness and insecurity masked as property "rights", are really about as useful as a hip pocket on a singlet. To quote a Led Zeppelin golden oldie, "When the levee breaks I'll have no place to stay”.

Cycle of Socialism, indeed!

I'll cite lines from the memorable Emerson, Lake and Palmer song, Knife Edge:

"....Our machines feed the furnace
If they take us they will burn us
Will you know who you are
Will you come to who you are
When the flames have their season
Will you hold to your reason
Loaded down with your talents ( gold or silver coins or bars)
Can you still keep your balance
On a knife edge."

Before you sneer at the songs think about the times we live in and what the other posters are talking about.

They are not even faintly interested in wresting precious material possessions off hoarders. All they want is a world they can and their kids can survive in. Let's save/win our world first, then haggle about money, property and possessions.

I guess the one area Paul and I might agree generally on is the need to think out change rather than just blunder holus-bolus into unilateral changes that cost more than they save. We have to be a bit savvy in this real world.

Fortunately, no sign of any thing less than "constructive" thinking at this thread (on the whole), but boy I have read some panicky and emotive stuff from naifs of the yak’s milk and back to nature variety elsewhere lately.

So I hope the constructive thinking goes on, but panickers and vested interests concerned with the horrifying thought that they, too might have to forgo a few consumer fetishes – these alike, should be ignored.

'Isms' are the Problem, not the Solution

Paul Morella, evidently the only person here who is obsessed with socialism (among various other isms) is you. There is nothing 'socialist' about regulating trade, including energy resources. As an aside, socialism is defined as a political system which advocates public ownership of industries and resources. Nobody in this forum is proposing public ownership of the oil and gas industry, and for an oil importer like Australia the Oil Depletion Protocol would address demand (rather than supply) anyway, so your post is just gobbledegook.

Another aside - do you consider the recent intervention by American and European central banks in the credit crisis to be 'socialism'?

Failed ideology (mainly, but not limited to, neo-liberalism) is the principal cause of the predicament we now find ourselves in with respect to peak oil. We need to move beyond ideological ranting and start thinking about practical solutions. The ODP is one practical step in the right direction.

Ironically, in the absence of the ODP Australia would be one of the biggest losers. We are already more reliant on cheap oil than most other countries and become more reliant by the day due to a range of policy and market failures. Based on current ABARE oil demand forecasts and Geoscience Australia domestic oil production forecasts, by 2015 (yes, only seven years away) only 20% of our oil demand will be met by domestic production, with the remaining 80% having to be imported.

During this period, as Lionel mentioned in his letter, exports from oil exporters including OPEC countries will be rapidly declining. Without the sort of regulation proposed in the ODP, Australia will be completely at the mercy of unprecedented oil price spikes and supply disruptions. Do you seriously propose that we sit back and do nothing as is currently the case? That is absolute stupidity.

Confusion

Ian McPherson, the market is people, billions of them, people just like you.

I think you're confused...

Actually, it is you writing about the unfetted evil of free markets. Yet you seem to believe something as important as world oil will be helped along by capitalists showing plain old good faith.

The oil depletion protocol was designed to address international and national oil depletion, encourage energy conservation and reduce the competition for remaining supplies; not produce a police body. You're inventing that part to suit your purposes.

So the world council of oil allocations will control the market with mind power or something?

I think you're confused or deluded.

As incomprehensible as usual

Actually, it is you writing about the unfetted evil of free markets. Yet you seem to believe something as important as world oil will be helped along by capitalists showing plain old good faith.

Paul, the word is unfettered. Unfetted is not a word. Your second sentence is virtually incomprehensible. If I understand it correctly, and I doubt that I do, it is wrong anyway. You were the one saying that we should have faith in the market working, not me. I have no such faith.

So the world council of oil allocations will control the market with mind power or something?

I think you're confused or deluded.

Watch your mouth, Paul. I am neither confused nor deluded. The armed-and-dangerous "world council of oil" is a figment of your imagination, not mine. It is certainly no part of the oil depletion protocol. This is a co-operative idea, not a crazy one-man conspiracy theory, complete with one-world-government armed enforcers.

Detailed provisions shall cover the definition of the several categories of oil, exemptions and qualifications, and the scientific procedures for the estimation of Depletion Rate.

The signatory countries shall cooperate in providing information on their reserves, allowing full technical audit, such that the Depletion Rate may be accurately determined.

The signatory countries shall have the right to appeal their assessed Depletion Rate in the event of changed circumstances.

What the oil depletion protocol has to do with climate change is still anyone's guess. You obviously have no idea, or can't remember...

Have Faith The Market Will Work

Lionel Orford: "We must conserve energy - that's right - use less, much less. This requires energy rationing, I would suggest by a quota system."

A person should be legally able to spend their money on whatever takes their fancy (with respect to others rights). I would consider this living in a free society.

That way people who make cuts in their energy use can sell their excess quota. This would create a net transfer of wealth from rich to poor.

One could also argue a third world citizen selling a kidney is a net transfer of wealth. Personally I believe having the kids freezing in winter and roasting in summer, along with studying by candlelight, is a tough way to make a crust - that and selling a kidney.

Your proposal although different makes me think of the world oil protocol - a piece of world socialist garbage where the intended outcome will naturally be the reverse (apparent to anyone with a semi functional brain) of what it sets out to achieve.

  • Form a "world council"; cocktails anyone? Cin Cin.
  • Every smart guy in the room begins throwing darts at a map of Africa. Off to see the new "oil minister" they thus set - a bottle of expensive red in one hand and a Swiss bank number in the other.
  • World council after a few years finally sobers up and decides drastic action must be taken, and right away, tally-ho and let's get ourselves a world police! Is it just me or do other's find socialists always end up talking guns and authoritarian enforcement?
  • In a panic after finally coming to terms with the shrimp posioning episode (those critters can be wicked) it is discovered many third world nations have long ago sold ALL their entitlements (All the King Fred's have long since set sail for the coastal sun and fun), world council decides to stagger price on a needs basis. Do I hear war and revolution anyone?
  • This of course ends in creating the greatest price hedge in the history of the known world, and ends up handing a select few BILLIONS.
  • World police by now having as much success with the world oil trade as they are with the world drug trade.

Finally somebody on world oil protocol council comes up with the fresh idea of a one stop shop. Where oil and stuff is processed in an above board fashion and even things like taxes are paid. Somebody decides to call it the New York Mercantile Exchange.

I honestly don't know what scares me the most: Climate change or the numbskulls that may get a limited shot of power because of it.

The Market: The Deity That Cares For You...

Have Faith The Market Will Work

Paul, if the market was the benevolent deity you obviously believe it is, it would not have produced tobacco companies which market to children (Winfield's Paul Hogan and Joe Camel ring a bell?) and funded think tanks to produce disinformation campaigns to discredit the science on smoking.

The practice continues to this day, with benevolent actors like ExxonMobil, Texaco, Arco, Shell and the American Gas Association paying think tanks to produce global warming research designed to confuse the science. I doubt very much that this was the "invisible hand" that Adam Smith had in mind. And I doubt very much that the "market" deserves our faith...

Your proposal although different makes me think of the world oil protocol - a piece of world socialist garbage where the intended outcome will naturally be the reverse (apparent to anyone with a semi functional brain) of what it sets out to achieve.

The oil depletion protocol was designed to address international and national oil depletion, encourage energy conservation and reduce the competition for remaining supplies; not produce a police body. You're inventing that part to suit your purposes. And it has absolutely nothing to do with climate change.

I think you're confused...

He's confused all right

I think he's confused as well Ian.

Looking at who has endorsed the Oil Depletion Protocol has me wondering what he makes of the City and County of San Francisco and other US cities signing up.

RE: He's confused all right

Looking at who has endorsed the Oil Depletion Protocol has me wondering what he makes of the City and County of San Francisco and other US cities signing up.

Hi Craig. The Greens here have backed the oil depletion protocol too. Ian Cohen, who chaired the Heinberg/Holmgren St. Stephens event in 2006 (which Sydney Peak Oil had a hand in), tabled a motion in the NSW Upper House within a day or so.

The next month, Greens' Senator Milne tabled a motion in the Federal Senate, which was rejected by the government and Labor:

The Australian Greens have called for the federal government to put oil depletion protocols on the agenda for the G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank governors meeting in Melbourne in November 2006. The protocols have been proposed as a way of promoting international cooperation in dealing with oil depletion. They aim to prevent profiteering from shortages of oil and to promote investment in alternative energies. Read more about oil depletion protocols. The government and Labor rejected the proposal. Read Christine's motion below.

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (3.39 p.m.)—I move: That the Senate—
(a)
notes that:
(i) various global oil depletion protocols have recently been proposed, and that the basic principle underpinning each is that oil importing nations agree to reduce their imports by an agreed yearly percentage (the world oil depletion rate), while producing countries would agree to reduce their rate of exports by their national depletion rate,
(ii) such protocols seek to prevent profiteering from shortage, avoid destabilising financial flows arising from excessive oil prices, encourage the avoidance of waste and stimulate investment in alternative energies, and
(iii) the next meeting of the Group of Twenty (G-20) Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors will take place in Melbourne in November 2006 and that the issues listed for discussion include energy security; and
(b) calls on the Government to include consideration of an oil depletion protocol on the agenda of the 2006 G-20 meeting.

Maybe, like Paul, they thought it was a socialist/world government/armed intervention thing... :)

LOHAS

In marketing jargon there is a group termed LOHAS.  This is an acronym for lifestyles of health and sustainability.  This segment is characterised by concern for health, ecology and social justice.

The 'leaders' in this segment in Australia are about 8% of the population.  Those quite sympathetic are another about 40% and those waiting to be convinced about another 40%.  The laggards are the rest.  This group cuts across age, gender and geography.

Details can be found on a website for a group called mobium (who of course hope to make their fortune from marketing to this group). 

One finding about the 8% of those who are 'converts' to these values is that they aren't evangelistic about them.  They just get on living the values as much as they can.

I find this encouraging.

Nuclear power just can't make it.

Steve Shallhorn is chief executive of Greenpeace Australia. His article in The Age Today:

Nuclear power is not cheap. In country after country, we have seen nuclear construction programs go considerably over budget. In the US, an assessment of 75 of the country's reactors showed predicted costs to have been $45 billion but the actual costs were $145 billion. Similarly in India, which has the most current experience, completion costs of the past 10 reactors have averaged 300% over budget. Wind power is now cheaper than nuclear power even without considering the costs of nuclear waste disposal.

Patrick Moore uses the climate change deniers' and delayers' favourite tactic: belittling renewable energy. But a report released in Bali at the weekend (Renewables 2007 Global Status Report) shows that renewables are thriving. This year, global investment in renewable energy will top $US100 billion ($A112 billion). Furthermore, the renewable energy industry employs more than 2.5 million people globally.

Timewise, renewable energy and energy efficiency are also streets ahead. Last month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a warning of what would happen to the planet if we did not act on emissions in the next eight years.

Nuclear power just can't make it. Analysis by the World Energy council shows the average construction time for nuclear plants has increased from 66 months in the mid-1970s to 116 months between 1995 and 2000.

And MIT and other studies estimate that for nuclear power to have any effect on global warming, we would need to build a minimum of 1000 reactors worldwide. This is not possible in the next decade, particularly as the nuclear industry has lost most of its engineers to the renewable energy sector. We don't have time to wait, and there's no reason to.

Renewable energy is ready now. A wind turbine takes three days to erect. The first offshore wind farm in Britain, in north Wales, took only eight months to build. And while solar and wind are variable, they are highly predictable. Meanwhile, other renewable energy technologies such as solar thermal, tidal, geothermal and bioenergy are more reliable than coal or nuclear, with none of the hazards.

Cheaper, faster and safer energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies are being favoured globally, and this momentum is unlikely to, and shouldn't, change. But even if power plants were safe, and there was a solution to radioactive waste, even if we had an endless supply of uranium at zero cost, nuclear plants could not be built in time to make the smallest contribution to avoiding dangerous climate change.

It seems that the nuclear option is a dud.  

Renewables just can't make it either

Thanks to John Pratt for passing on the Age article on nuclear power. I believe that the reasons given that nuclear is not a viable way of cutting greenhouse emmissions are valid. You will note that I have never claimed that nuclear was the solution to greenhouse gas emissions.

I must stress here that I am a supporter of renewable energy development - but they must be useful forms of renewable energy.

The article points out that the wind power industry is booming around the world. The only problem is that wind power is a scam. It is worse than useless as a means of providing our energy needs.

Wind farms typically have a capacity factor of around 20% and 30% at best. The capacity factor is the actual amount of electrical energy generated compared with what would be generated if the machine was able to operate at full power all the time. This means that conventional generation must be available on standby to take up the slack when the wind doesn't blow at full design strength. This means that no significant amount of wind power can be absorbed into the system due to the power swings it creates and it does not reduce the amount of conventional power capacity that has to be built.

Exactly the same is true of photvoltaic solar, both flat panels and concentrating systems, wave power and of solar thermal which doesn't incorporate heat storage.

It is totally unfeasible to built vastly more of these intermittant power sources over a large area on the basis that when one isn't generating, another will be.

1. The capital and energy cost of building so much plant renders it totally unfeasible. It would entail building something in the order of 6 or 7 times as much plant.

2. It simply isn't true that "when one isn't generating, another will be." There are times when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine over a vast area. It does not "all average out".

3. The transmission of vast amounts of power over long distances is not possible with our current transmission infrastucure - vastly more would need to built.

The reason that wind power is booming around the world is simple: compared with other renewables, it's cheap to build and requires the lowest level of government subsidy. This gives governments the opportunity to "do something" - to make some minor cuts to greenhouse emissions and make the electorate believe that they are doing something and change is on the way.

Wind power is subsidised in two ways - direct handouts in the form of way above market prices and the compelling of the conventional power system to take the output and provide the required standby capacity.

There is another emerging problem with wind as well. The turbines are literally flying apart, causing a major safety hazard. Several workers have been killed. The blades and towers are exposed to very high wind forces and they are fatiguing out. This is happening so quickly that it is doubtful that the turbines have even paid back their initial energy cost before they must be replaced.

What does work?

Well - nothing at the moment, but there are some promising things being developed.

1. Solar thermal with heat storage. This enables electricity to be generated as required from stored heat. The first of these was the "Solar Two" power tower. David Mills is also working on anther form of concentrating solar thermal with heat storage, which shows promise. There is another type of system going ahead in Cloncurry, Qld.

2. Hot rock geothermal power. This uses the heat in hot rock formations that are comparatively close to the surface - 5km or less.

3. CO2 capture and storage. This is not renewable energy, but one form of the so called "clean coal" technologies. The technology is in its infancy and the problems are many. If it ever works at all, it is decades away from significant reductions.

There are two drawbacks to all these systems - 1. we haven't got them yet and all have technical problems. 2. They will be extremely expensive.

However, as these are the only viable long term options we have found, they should be pursued as fast as possible.

So what can we do?

We must conserve energy - that's right - use less, much less. This requires energy rationing, I would suggest by a quota system. That way people who make cuts in their energy use can sell their exess quota. This would create a net transfer of wealth from rich to poor.

Unfortunately, this is a political nightmare - essentially impossible in a democracy. There's no way that the rich will accept having their standard of living stripped from them and it would cause a collapse of the market economy, which only works if we use more, more, more of everything, but most of all energy.

Further Reading:

Renewable Energy Can't Save Consumer Society by Ted Trainer. I commend this to everyone who wants to understand this issue.

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