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Coal: Bigger Than The Elephant In The Room

By 1 February 2012 136

What is even bigger than the elephant in the room?  Find out next Tuesday – 7th February, 6.30 pm at the Finkel Theatre, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.

Jeremy Tager is stepping down from his post as senior political advisor to Greenpeace Australia.  Before he leaves Canberra, SEE-Change has arranged for him to deliver a talk about our coal industry.

This talk will present the anomaly of massive government subsidies to the coal industry and Australia’s responsibility as a major coal exporter to other countries at a time when we are ostensibly committed to reducing global carbon dioxide emissions.  Questions will be taken after the talk.

To reserve your place, please vist our event page here.

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136 Responses to Coal: Bigger Than The Elephant In The Room
#31
breda7:36 pm, 05 Feb 12

Jethro, your ‘vast amounts’ of CO2 being emitted by human activity represent a small part of the 0.04% of the atmosphere that is CO2. Even the most avid warmistas admit that (i) the planet would be devoid of life without carbon dioxide and (ii) human activity contributes a tiny part of the tiny part of the atmosphere that is CO2.

Please spare us the ‘whatever the weather does, it proves that one of our many models is correct’ schtick. It got old a long time ago. Remember the prediction that we were set for eternal drought (Tim Flannery) or that snow would be just a memory (some UK dickhead whose name I can’t be bothered looking up). Queenslanders and Poms who are respectively drowning and freezing will draw their own conclusions.

The tide is going out – best jump on one of the ‘sustainability’ or ‘biodiversity’ lifeboats before it is too late. You really don’t want to be stranded on the island of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, like a latter day Alexander Selkirk. If you have been paying attention, the smarties are already gently backing away and into new boondoggles.

#32
Skyring7:38 pm, 05 Feb 12

Jethro said :

The ability of CO2 to capture heat radiation has been known by science since the 19th century and the impacts of emitting vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere were theorised well before they were observed. If we are to argue that adding CO2 to the atmosphere won’t lead to warming, we would need to also argue that the current CO2 in the atmosphere never worked to trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere in the first place, which is clearly false. The fact you don’t freeze to death every night is proof of this.

This isn’t a religious belief in any sense. It is supported by an incredible amount of research, data and analysis. Religious belief requires faith without evidence. A non-evidence based belief in natural variation is more akin to religious faith than the belief in decades of climate research and centuries of basic scientific knowledge.

I think it’s more than CO2 that traps heat. Ask anyone who owns a double brick home. Thermal mass has very little to do with the atmosphere.

I’m just wondering how you’d explain Ötzi the Iceman. If he was covered by ice 5 300 years ago and remained buried until recently, then surely temperatures then were much the same as now.

#33
milkman7:38 pm, 05 Feb 12

dungfungus said :

Jethro said :

Waiting for Godot – because Canberra is the globe and local weather reflects global climate.

As a globe, we are not cooling. Global temperatures continue to increase. The first decade of the 21st century was the hottest on record.

But I guess your ‘looking out the window’ model is more exact than the culminated efforts of thousands of scientists using collated data from around the globe.

I wish a scientist would explain to me why I have only turned the air conditioner on once this summer but I have had the electric blanket put back on my bed and it has been switched on several times.

The trouble is that we don’t have enough data to draw together an accurate prediction. We know that humans are polluting, we know that this this is impacting the environment. But we also know that climate changes anyway, and that there are times in history where it was both hotter and colder.

Treating this as a rabid religious debate isn’t helping. We need more pragmatism and less sensationalism.

#34
welkin318:04 pm, 05 Feb 12

Jethro – in #26 you said “Natural variation is all well and good, but it simply does not and cannot explain the rate and consistency of global climate change.”

Recall that in the time of Eric the Red in the heyday of the Vikings – farms thrived in Greenland. Why did they call it “Green”land. When that sort of agriculture returns to Greenland, then I will know that Earth’s temperature is roughly on a par with what it was a millenium ago.
So – any temperature rise in the last 200 yrs is simply natural rebound from the Little Ice Age.

#35
Jethro9:00 pm, 05 Feb 12

breda said :

Jethro, your ‘vast amounts’ of CO2 being emitted by human activity represent a small part of the 0.04% of the atmosphere that is CO2. Even the most avid warmistas admit that (i) the planet would be devoid of life without carbon dioxide and (ii) human activity contributes a tiny part of the tiny part of the atmosphere that is CO2.

[
Please spare us the 'whatever the weather does, it proves that one of our many models is correct' schtick. It got old a long time ago. Remember the prediction that we were set for eternal drought (Tim Flannery) or that snow would be just a memory (some UK dickhead whose name I can't be bothered looking up). Queenslanders and Poms who are respectively drowning and freezing will draw their own conclusions.

The tide is going out – best jump on one of the ‘sustainability’ or ‘biodiversity’ lifeboats before it is too late. You really don’t want to be stranded on the island of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, like a latter day Alexander Selkirk. If you have been paying attention, the smarties are already gently backing away and into new boondoggles.

The “it’s only a tiny percentage of the atmosphere argument” belies your lack of understanding of the science. 99% of the atmosphere (oxygen, nitrogen and argon) has absolutely no ability to absorb any light radiation, so in the context of the atmosphere’s impact on warming, these things basically don’t exist. We shouldn’t be counting them as part of the atmosphere that causes warming.

All of the warming properties of the atmosphere that existed before industrialisation came from the other 1% of the atmosphere. It’s how much we add to this 1% that counts, or do we argue that this 1% couldn’t work to keep the Earth warm because it is not a large enough percentage of the total atmosphere to have an impact?

In terms of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, we have caused it to move from 280ppm to 400ppm – an increase of about 40% from pre-industrial levels. This is the figure you should be looking at, as it is the one that matters. The 99% of the atmosphere that doesn’t operate to trap heat doesn’t figure in calculations regarding the impact of carbon pollution. To focus on it is either dishonest or ignorant.

You are referring to Tim Flannery as prove that climate predictions are inaccurate. Flannery isn’t a climate scientist. How about you look up their predictions? The models used by climate scientists are reasonably sound, in that their predictions continue to be reflected in the changes that are occurring.

I think you will find that any reasonable person and pretty much every expert in the field sees that the evidence regarding AGW is stronger than ever. You might want to reconsider your stance on the topic lest you end up stuck in rural Kentucky looking at a museum diorama explaining that dinosaurs and humans once lived together until a giant flood washed the dinosaurs away.

#36
Jethro9:07 pm, 05 Feb 12

welkin31 said :

Jethro – in #26 you said “Natural variation is all well and good, but it simply does not and cannot explain the rate and consistency of global climate change.”

Recall that in the time of Eric the Red in the heyday of the Vikings – farms thrived in Greenland. Why did they call it “Green”land. When that sort of agriculture returns to Greenland, then I will know that Earth’s temperature is roughly on a par with what it was a millenium ago.
So – any temperature rise in the last 200 yrs is simply natural rebound from the Little Ice Age.

Localised periods of warming are not the same as global changes.

Also, Greenland has been covered under an ice-sheet for hundreds of thousands of years. There was in the middle ages, and remains so today, a very small part of Greenland not under ice. The name Greenland was a clever piece of propaganda by Viking settlers who wanted to encourage more people to join their colony. Farms didn’t thrive. All evidence points to a colony that just hung on.

While there was likely a short period of locally warm weather during the early partof the Viking colonisation it was nothing comparable to the long-term global trend of increasing temperatures.

#37
Skyring9:35 pm, 05 Feb 12

milkman said :

Treating this as a rabid religious debate isn’t helping. We need more pragmatism and less sensationalism.

Hear, hear!

We’re not getting much beyond can’t and catchphrases from Julia Gillard. She’s bringing in this complex and controversial carbon tax, talking about a “clean energy future” and then bragging about how strong our economy is from selling coal to China. Yeah. China’s on a different planet.

Solar, wind, tidal and geothermal power aren’t really at a stage – if they ever will be – to compete with fossil fuels and nuclear energy. I think if some new technology comes up, then whoever has the patent will make a fortune, and that will drive research and innovation. Taxing Australia’s biggest companies might make some sort of political sense for the ALP, but it’s not going to do much beyond providing employment to creative accountants and lawyers and give the Greens a nice warm feeling in their pants.

#38
dungfungus10:20 pm, 05 Feb 12

The cat did it said :

dungfungus- I’m not a scientist, but if i were, I’d suggest you try to understand the difference between weather and climate- weather is what we experience from day to day; climate is weather averaged over at least a decade, usually over 30 years. This and last year’s mild summer get averaged along with the stinking hot summers we had a few years ago.

Also, there are a number of weather phenomena that are cyclic over periods of several years, notably (for Australia) ENSO (el nino/la nina), but there are similar phenomena in eg the Indian Ocean and the North Atlantic. The prevailing La Nina is responsible for the current cool damp summer. These shorter period events can temporarily mask the longer term increase in global temperatures. Just because temperatures aren’t increasing steadily year-on-year doesn’t mean they’re not increasing just the same.

You can get a good idea of what is happening by looking at the chart of temperature at http://sks.to/escalator. It shows how you can select the short term decline quoted selectively by sceptics, and the increase over the longer term.

You are correct; you are not a scientist because if you were you would know that the definition of climate is “the weather conditions of a place or a region DURING A YEAR” (Source: Heinemann Australian Dictionary written and compiled in association with members of the academic staff of La Trobe University, published 1976)

#39
The cat did it12:22 am, 06 Feb 12

dungfungus @#38 So you trawled back to 1976 to find a definition that you think helps your case. I can’t speculate on what the learned academics of Latrobe were thinking, but their definition is useless in practice, because it leads to a logical inconsistency. Consider (as Julius Sumner Miller might have said)- a town has a ‘hot’ year followed by a cool year- according to the way you want to interpret the definition, the same town would thus have two distinct climates. Most definitions refer to ‘generally prevailing’ or words like that.

In their publication ‘The Science of Climate Change: questions and answers’, the Australian Academy of Science puts it this way-
‘Climate change is a change in the average pattern of weather over a long period of time Climate is a statistical description of weather conditions and their variations, including both averages and extremes. Climate change refers to a change in these conditions that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer.’ (http://www.science.org.au/policy/climatechange.html)

But of course, they’re only climate change scientists- if you don’t like their conclusions and evidence, you can always put your trust in Christopher Monckton, Ian Plimer and Alan Jones.

#40
Jethro6:05 am, 06 Feb 12

Skyring said :

milkman said :

Treating this as a rabid religious debate isn’t helping. We need more pragmatism and less sensationalism.

Hear, hear!

We’re not getting much beyond can’t and catchphrases from Julia Gillard. She’s bringing in this complex and controversial carbon tax, talking about a “clean energy future” and then bragging about how strong our economy is from selling coal to China. Yeah. China’s on a different planet.

Solar, wind, tidal and geothermal power aren’t really at a stage – if they ever will be – to compete with fossil fuels and nuclear energy. I think if some new technology comes up, then whoever has the patent will make a fortune, and that will drive research and innovation. Taxing Australia’s biggest companies might make some sort of political sense for the ALP, but it’s not going to do much beyond providing employment to creative accountants and lawyers and give the Greens a nice warm feeling in their pants.

Ok.. so those are criticisms with policy responses to the science. That is fine. It is when people dispute the science because they don’t like the implications it may have to future economic or social policy.

Personally, I see the main benefit of the carbon tax is that it will provide a market incentive to invest in those alternative energies. At the moment, short-termism dictates investment policies i(e. I can continue to profit from burning coal, so why move away from it?) A price on carbon makes it more difficut for a company to externalise the cost of burning coal (ie. ignore the environmental cost of the action and pass it on to future generations). Once a company is less able to externalise the cost of burning coal it may become more prudent for them to invest in other technologies.

As you said, alternative energies aren’t there yet. A price of carbon emissions may help drive the investment needed in these areas. In this way we will be able to ease from one type of energy technology to another. Otherwise, we may find ourselves in 20 or 30 years time having to make incredibly rapid changes that end up costing more economically.

Don’t forget that peak oil also means that we have a spot not too far in the future where oil prices will become increasingly expensive. Putting in place systems now that help us reduce our reliance on this finite resource makes sense.

#41
Thumper8:22 am, 06 Feb 12

“Treating this as a rabid religious debate isn’t helping. We need more pragmatism and less sensationalism.”

I’ll agree with that.

#42
Skyring9:01 am, 06 Feb 12

Jethro said :

Don’t forget that peak oil also means that we have a spot not too far in the future where oil prices will become increasingly expensive. Putting in place systems now that help us reduce our reliance on this finite resource makes sense.

I think we’ll have to wait for a Coalition government before we make moves towards nuclear energy. Nothing else comes close to matching the efficiency of fossil fuels.

Incidentally, when people point the finger and say that we australians are the highest per capita canon dioxide emitters in the developed world, that’s because every comparable nation is using nuclear power – which doesn’t emit carbon dioxide.

#43
dungfungus9:21 am, 06 Feb 12

Jethro said :

Skyring said :

milkman said :

Treating this as a rabid religious debate isn’t helping. We need more pragmatism and less sensationalism.

Hear, hear!

We’re not getting much beyond can’t and catchphrases from Julia Gillard. She’s bringing in this complex and controversial carbon tax, talking about a “clean energy future” and then bragging about how strong our economy is from selling coal to China. Yeah. China’s on a different planet.

Solar, wind, tidal and geothermal power aren’t really at a stage – if they ever will be – to compete with fossil fuels and nuclear energy. I think if some new technology comes up, then whoever has the patent will make a fortune, and that will drive research and innovation. Taxing Australia’s biggest companies might make some sort of political sense for the ALP, but it’s not going to do much beyond providing employment to creative accountants and lawyers and give the Greens a nice warm feeling in their pants.

Ok.. so those are criticisms with policy responses to the science. That is fine. It is when people dispute the science because they don’t like the implications it may have to future economic or social policy.

Personally, I see the main benefit of the carbon tax is that it will provide a market incentive to invest in those alternative energies. At the moment, short-termism dictates investment policies i(e. I can continue to profit from burning coal, so why move away from it?) A price on carbon makes it more difficut for a company to externalise the cost of burning coal (ie. ignore the environmental cost of the action and pass it on to future generations). Once a company is less able to externalise the cost of burning coal it may become more prudent for them to invest in other technologies.

As you said, alternative energies aren’t there yet. A price of carbon emissions may help drive the investment needed in these areas. In this way we will be able to ease from one type of energy technology to another. Otherwise, we may find ourselves in 20 or 30 years time having to make incredibly rapid changes that end up costing more economically.

Don’t forget that peak oil also means that we have a spot not too far in the future where oil prices will become increasingly expensive. Putting in place systems now that help us reduce our reliance on this finite resource makes sense.

The “peak oil” theory is another nonsense like man-made “carbon pollution” being the cause of climate change.
There are massive amounts of oil reserves still untapped. They will be developed when the producers deem it is commercially appropriate. In the meantime, the “peak oil” theory is great for building receptivity for the next great scam namely “sustainable reneweable energy”

#44
dungfungus9:29 am, 06 Feb 12

Skyring said :

milkman said :

Treating this as a rabid religious debate isn’t helping. We need more pragmatism and less sensationalism.

Hear, hear!

We’re not getting much beyond can’t and catchphrases from Julia Gillard. She’s bringing in this complex and controversial carbon tax, talking about a “clean energy future” and then bragging about how strong our economy is from selling coal to China. Yeah. China’s on a different planet.

Solar, wind, tidal and geothermal power aren’t really at a stage – if they ever will be – to compete with fossil fuels and nuclear energy. I think if some new technology comes up, then whoever has the patent will make a fortune, and that will drive research and innovation. Taxing Australia’s biggest companies might make some sort of political sense for the ALP, but it’s not going to do much beyond providing employment to creative accountants and lawyers and give the Greens a nice warm feeling in their pants.

Heard on the ABC News (so it must be fact) this morning that the huge Government REC subsidised commercial solar farms that were planned for NSW and Queensland have failed to get financial backers. Appears RECS are now next to worthless – the subsidies to the coal and gas producers are more realistic.

#45
switch9:31 am, 06 Feb 12

Skyring said :

Incidentally, when people point the finger and say that we australians are the highest per capita canon dioxide emitters in the developed world, that’s because every comparable nation is using nuclear power – which doesn’t emit carbon dioxide.

People keep saying this, but we don’t even get in the top ten. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions_per_capita

#46
pajs9:54 am, 06 Feb 12

Nine of the ten warmest years for the globe happened during the 21st century. http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/

Warming continues. I profoundly wish it were otherwise.

#47
VYBerlinaV8_is_back10:13 am, 06 Feb 12

pajs said :

Nine of the ten warmest years for the globe happened during the 21st century. http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/

Warming continues. I profoundly wish it were otherwise.

What – warmest days ever? Or since modern record keeping began?

#48
davo10110:55 am, 06 Feb 12

switch said :

People keep saying this, but we don’t even get in the top ten. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions_per_capita

OK, how about highest country where the stats are not skewed by tiny populations and large industrial emissions?

#49
p111:58 am, 06 Feb 12

VYBerlinaV8_is_back said :

What – warmest days ever? Or since modern record keeping began?

Well, the world was only created about 7000 years ago, so it doesn’t make much difference does it?

#50
Skyring12:09 pm, 06 Feb 12

switch said :

[People keep saying this, but we don’t even get in the top ten. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions_per_capita

Well spotted! Oooh, but there are some wicked people around pedalling untruths and spin cycles!

#51
p112:14 pm, 06 Feb 12

davo101 said :

switch said :

People keep saying this, but we don’t even get in the top ten. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions_per_capita

OK, how about highest country where the stats are not skewed by tiny populations and large industrial emissions?

Ummm, but Australia IS a country with a tiny population and large industrial emissions???

#52
Diggety12:35 pm, 06 Feb 12

Again, are we likely to get some video posted from the talk? Slides will do.

#53
pajs12:39 pm, 06 Feb 12

VY, the most commonly cited GISS data series for temperature (available at http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs_v3/ ) generally start at 1880 (such as the meteorological stations data set). So pretty much following the instrumental record period.

If you are interested in longer-term temperature data sets, including some of the critiques of these, there is a reasonable summary at http://www.skepticalscience.com/broken-hockey-stick.htm or you can download a pdf of the US National Academy of Science’s assessment of surface temperature reconstructions over the last 2000 years at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11676

The key message from that review: recent warming in unprecedented over at least the last 1300 years.

#54
davo10112:46 pm, 06 Feb 12

p1 said :

Ummm, but Australia IS a country with a tiny population and large industrial emissions???

Population of Australia 23 million, population of the ten “countries” that beat us 17 million.

Let’s try highest per-capita emissions in countries you would actually want to live in.

#55
davo10112:53 pm, 06 Feb 12

VYBerlinaV8_is_back said :

What – warmest days ever? Or since modern record keeping began?

Clearly not ever, but the fact that the earth was a good 6~8 degrees warmer in the Cenozoic era doesn’t really give me any comfort. Our way of life is tuned to the climate of the Holocene and it is likely that by 2000 we had returned to the Holocene maximum.

#56
Diggety12:59 pm, 06 Feb 12

davo101 said :

p1 said :

Ummm, but Australia IS a country with a tiny population and large industrial emissions???

Population of Australia 23 million, population of the ten “countries” that beat us 17 million.

Let’s try highest per-capita emissions in countries you would actually want to live in.

If the Greens (or Greenpeace) have their way, any of those countries would be more desirable to live in.

#57
Postalgeek1:58 pm, 06 Feb 12

dungfungus said :

The “peak oil” theory is another nonsense like man-made “carbon pollution” being the cause of climate change.
There are massive amounts of oil reserves still untapped. They will be developed when the producers deem it is commercially appropriate. In the meantime, the “peak oil” theory is great for building receptivity for the next great scam namely “sustainable reneweable energy”

DF, why aren’t you sharing your valuable insights with the servant of oil energy, the IEA?

They’ve been forced to concede that, while they were busy denying it would occur soon, peak happened back between 2006 and 2008. You could save all those amateurs a lot of embarrassment with your data.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/nov/12/oil-shortage-uppsala-aleklett

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/09/peak-oil-international-energy-agency

http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-11-11/iea-acknowledges-peak-oil

#58
SEEChangeIncCanberra3:02 pm, 06 Feb 12

Great to see this post sparking so much interest and debate. Sorry to take so long to answer your query, Diggety: I will be happy to post some pictures and a summary of the presentation after tomorrow night; not sure if our facilities stretch to video. Will do my best.

#59
Skyring3:50 pm, 06 Feb 12

davo101 said :

Let’s try highest per-capita emissions in countries you would actually want to live in.

Obviously you’ve never been to Luxembourg.

#60
davo1014:40 pm, 06 Feb 12

Skyring said :

Obviously you’ve never been to Luxembourg.

Ah Luxembourg, famous for being more boring than Belgium. I suppose the upside would be you can walk to another country in under five minutes.

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