The Greenhouse Mafia  

Posted by Big Gav

Monday's "Four Corners" on the ABC features a whistleblower talking about how Australia's policies on global warming have been hijacked by the "greenhouse mafia" .

Four Corners returns for 2006 with a whistleblower … and revelations of a powerful insiders’ club. "Having found out what I’ve found out, I find it impossible to continue with a clear conscience without speaking out" - whistleblower interviewed by Four Corners.

Are Australians getting the whole truth on global warming ? Not according to evidence given to Four Corners, which returns with disturbing allegations about the power wielded by industry lobbyists, the self-proclaimed greenhouse "mafia".

A whistleblower steps forward with claims that industry representatives have burrowed deep inside the federal bureaucracy in a successful bid to hijack greenhouse policy. "Their influence over greenhouse policy in Australia is extraordinary", he observes.

Four Corners also examines separate claims that the public is being denied full information about strategies to combat global warming.

Australians do know that last year was the hottest on record. They also know that carbon emissions are forecast to bring more heatwaves, storms, droughts, bushfires and diseases. This revealing report will help Australians understand what they are not being told.

Taking a wild guess I'd assume these "industry representatives" are representing the coal industry. Crikey has an article on the coal industry's influence on the Liberal Party (and some state Labor governments) called "Totally addicted to coal".
After seeing the broad business support for a carbon tax at the Australian Future Directions Forum, it raises the question of exactly who is still holding out against what appears a global inevitability. As one senior business figure told an environmentalist, "I have no problem with taxing poison."

Given that the coal industry is currently throwing off operating profits of almost $10 billion a year, the case in favour of ongoing subsidies and the argument that they couldn't afford a carbon tax is very hard to sustain.

Coal and Canberra have been close for decades, although the Big Four coal kings – Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Xstrata and AngloAmerican – don't appear directly in the 2004-05 political donations figures. But the connections are still there if you know where to look.

The Cormack Foundation, the Liberal Party's key fundraising front, gave $1.9 million in 2004-05, and is co-chaired by Hugh Morgan, the former WMC CEO and immediate past President of the Business Council. Morgan is one of Australia's highest profile climate sceptics, holding the renewables industry back through the elite and media work by the IPA and the green-sceptic Lavoisier Group.

The other well-known Liberal fundraiser, Bennelong, is co-chaired by Ray Evans, a WMC and IPA veteran who has been Hugh Morgan's hard right Svengali for years. Bennelong at one point made its pro-coal/uranium link public when it shared a post office box with the Lavoisier Group.

Wesfarmers, with a strong presence in the coal industry, handed over $120,000 to the Liberals in 2004-05, plus $20,000 to the Nats and $20,000 to the ALP. The BCA is split on issues like a carbon tax but the fossil fuels faction is happy to have a former Wesfarmers CEO as the new President.

The Howard Government has certainly favoured coal over renewables research to the value of hundreds of millions of dollars in direct benefit to the Big Four. Indeed, when you factor in secretive and subsidised electricity contracts, especially to aluminium smelters, the annual subsidy from state and federal taxpayers to the fossil fuels industry easily runs to several billion of dollars.

As I've moaned before, its rather unfortunate that coal provides so much sorely needed export income for Australia . One day the world will wake up to the fact that the stuff isn't even needed to generate our electricity - Amory Lovins has a column titled "Who needs more coal ?" that looks at how the US could remove the need for coal fired power (one other problem for the Australian coal industry, noted in Saturday's Herlad, is that Japanese customers are unhappy about high prices and are negotiating to buy an equity stake in Russia's Eriga coal field, which apparently contains as much coal - 2.1 billion tonnes - as the whole of Queensland).
Coal-fired power plants generate half of U.S. electricity. Yet mountaintop removal, smokestack pollution, and global warming aren't inevitable; they're artifacts of using electricity in ways that waste money. Most of the electricity used today, whether in the U.S. or in even more coal-intensive countries like China, can be saved by using it far more efficiently.

Fifteen years ago, the utility industry's Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and a team of researchers at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), the resource efficiency center I cofounded, came to essentially the same conclusion. In a joint Scientific American article, EPRI found that it would be cheaper to save 39 to 59 percent of all the electricity used in the United States than pay to run coal-fired (or nuclear) power plants and deliver that same power to customers; RMI concluded the number was at least 75 percent. Either way (the differences are largely methodological), running coal-fired power plants, let alone building more, is uneconomic when compared to other widely available, but officially disfavored, ways to do the same tasks. Recent drops of 2 percent per year in the electricity that's used to make a dollar of U.S. gross domestic product barely scratch the surface of what's possible—and electricity-saving techniques are getting better and cheaper faster than we're using resources up.

These dramatic savings come not from privation or discomfort, but from smarter technologies that wring more work from each kilowatt-hour. They deliver the same comfort, light, hot showers, cold beer, and other services with the same or better quality and reliability but use less energy and less money. For example, my refrigerator keeps a power plant from burning enough coal to fill the refrigerator every year, because it uses 92 percent less electricity than most—and newer technologies could raise that to at least 97 percent.

Orion magazine has an article on modern day coal mining techniques in the Appalachian mountain range.
Central Appalachia provides much of the country's coal, second only to Wyoming's Powder River Basin. In the United States, one hundred tons of coal are extracted every two seconds. Around 70 percent of that coal comes from strip mines, and over the last twenty years, an increasing amount comes from mountaintop removal sites. In the name of corporate expedience, coal companies have turned from excavation to simply blasting away the tops of the mountains. To achieve this, they use the same mixture of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel that Timothy McVeigh employed to level the Murrow Building in Oklahoma City—except each detonation is ten times as powerful, and thousands of blasts go off each day across central Appalachia.

Hundreds of feet of forest, topsoil, and sandstone—the coal industry calls all of this "overburden"—are unearthed so bulldozers and front-end loaders can more easily extract the thin seams of rich, bituminous coal that stretch in horizontal layers throughout these mountains. Almost everything that isn't coal is pushed down into the valleys below. As a result, 6,700 "valley fills" were approved in central Appalachia between 1985 and 2001. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that over 700 miles of healthy streams have been completely buried by mountaintop removal and thousands more have been damaged. Where there once flowed a highly braided system of headwater streams, now a vast circuitry of haul roads winds through the rubble. From the air, it looks like someone had tried to plot a highway system on the moon.

There has been a small amount of movement in the right direction on global warming in the US recently, with reports that the "shamed climate spin doctor has quit NASA" (Dave Roberts has a more down to earth description of the saga - and also notes for fans of black humour that the American Association of Petroleum Geologists bizarrely presented their annual journalism award to Michael Crichton).
A young Bush appointee who tried to shut down NASA's chief climate change scientist because he was warning of the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions has resigned after it was revealed his résumé was false.

George Deutsch, 24, was underqualified even when he was appointed to NASA's public affairs office in Washington after working on the Bush re-election campaign in 2004. He claimed to be a journalism graduate from Texas A&M University, but resigned after a blogger revealed he had not graduated.

At the space agency, he had insisted that any mention of the "big bang" had to have the word "theory" attached to it, saying it was "more than a science issue, it is a religious issue". He said: "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be, to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

He also tried to restrict the access of NASA's chief climate scientist, James Hansen, to the media after he warned about the need to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Mr Hansen said he was threatened with "dire consequences" by White House appointees at NASA headquarters if he continued to call for prompt action to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases linked to global warming. He said the problem went much further than just one political appointee.

The Bush Administration, after first doubting the science of climate change and denying that greenhouse gases were causing rising world temperatures, has now admitted this is a problem. However, like Australia, it has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which commits industrialised nations to reducing emissions.

There has also ben something of an "Evangelical Mutiny" on the subject of global warming in the US (obviously some Christians don't agree that King George is doing what god tells him to).
Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying "millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors."

Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller "The Purpose-Driven Life."

"For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority," the statement said. "Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough."

The BBC has a report that the climate is the warmest it has been in the last millennium - Grists asks if they have checked with our modern day conservative think tank clergy (given that some of the regular churches are now a bit unreliable) if they are allowed to utter such blasphemous words ?
Global warming, neither a far-off abstraction nor the myth some (still!) claim it to be, is already causing mayhem worldwide, according to the latest rash of studies on the topic. In the late 20th century, the Northern Hemisphere experienced its most sustained warm stretch in 1,200 years, report a team of U.K. scientists in the journal Science. In the medical journal The Lancet, Australian scientists warn that climate change will trigger or exacerbate health problems galore, including overheating, allergies, cholera, infectious disease, and starvation. A study by the Swiss Academy of Sciences found that 84 of 91 Swiss glaciers being monitored shrunk in 2005. And the U.N. University is predicting that in less than five years, climate change and other environmental problems may create as many as 50 million environmental refugees. So ... um ... basically there's nothing funny to say about any of this.

The BBC also notes that global warming related costs could make "oil profits vanish" but that government revenues from oil and gas make regulatory action an unlikely proposition.
The huge profits reported by oil and gas companies would turn into losses if the social costs of their greenhouse gas emissions were taken into account. That is the conclusion of research by the New Economics Foundation (Nef).

Nef found that the £10bn-plus profits just reported by Shell and BP are dwarfed by costs of emissions associated with their products. Nef also suggests UK Treasury revenues from oil and gas may be a disincentive to curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Reporting previously undisclosed figures, Nef's policy director Andrew Simms writes: "Our new calculations from research in progress with WWF, based on Treasury statistics, show that UK government income from the fossil fuel sector - conservatively estimated at £34.9bn ($61bn) - is greater than revenue from council tax, stamp duty, capital gains and inheritance tax combined. "Policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions could therefore have a major impact on the government coffers; a serious disincentive to action."

WorldChanging has a look at a new model for understanding the climate called constructal theory.
Duke University's Adrian Bejan, along with colleagues from the University of Evora in Portugal, has discovered something potentially quite important: a recently-developed theory of optimizing flow configurations over time called Constructal theory can be used to model key parts of the global climate, and do so using only a small number of well-known inputs. Moreover, this theory could be used to build models of changes to weather patterns resulting from greenhouse gas accumulation. What makes this notable -- and possibly worldchanging -- is that Constructal theory is shaping up to be a universal physics principle applicable to everything from traffic flows to the evolution of the circulatory system. This is kind of abstract, but bear with me -- this could be a major discovery.


The most directly relevant application of this finding is that we could see how changes to the greenhouse factor trigger larger changes in the global climate. It may not give us precise predictions as to the effects on a particular location, but if this observation is borne out, it could give us a much stronger sense of how close we are to a climate "tipping point." Climate scientists worry that we could be getting close to a level of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere that would lead to a major shift in the overall global climate to a new (and likely unpleasant) stable configuration.

If the Constructal model of the global climate shows a phase shift resulting from increased greenhouse gases, we'll have a better lead on how much more CO2 we can add to the atmosphere before things fall apart. In turn, this will tell us whether a slow/steady mitigation plan will work, or whether we need to do a major try-anything campaign to get greenhouse gas levels down.


I notice the ABC 'Landline' program has started including water trading prices in the commodities report. Conceivably one day it will include carbon trading prices, perhaps not with this PM. I also have a strong suspicion that the coal industry is fudging expected results for combined cycle - gasification. The real data may come to light only when it is a done deal.

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