Stepper: “Energy Flow in #Australia” -1978 article, depressing prescience…

On stepper this morning I also read some Financial Times, natch. But here is the short version: in Australia there was a small, well-connected and highly intelligent “epistemic community” (h/t Peter Haas) around energy/climate from the mid-1970s onwards. People like Mark Diesendorf, Hugh Saddler, Roger Gifford, Graeme Pearman. Many of them are still alive…  And the top German politician was on it a decade ahead of Maggie…

Gifford, R. (1978) Energy Flow in Australia: Matching Needs and Supplies. Australian Journal of Public Administration Vol 37, pp. 69- 83

The abstract is worth quoting in full

Abstract: Energy flow and transformation, being a fundamental driving force behind organization, should be subject to long term government policy. A pre-requisite for formulating energy policy is detailed knowledge of the dynamics and thermodynamics of energy supply and utilization. The lack of coherent policy in the past has led to the development of a society which is physically, institutionally and psychologically locked into an unsustainable liquid fuel consumption pattern requiring not only high but also growing consumption. An expression of this situation is the widespread assumption that coal and nuclear energy are the only significant realistic longer term options for the future, even though these would involve unproven technology and considerable environmental and social risks. The other long term option-the diffuse energy option based on widely distributed, renewable energy sources such as wind and the sun-is generally regarded as unrealistic. This is a social judgement determined more by the inertia of existing institutions and perceptions of our needs than by technical reality. I t is possible however, that the measures which might be taken to deal with the crisis of oil depletion in the next couple of decades may swing community structure and attitude and bureaucratic organization into a conservation-minded pattern in which the long term option based on low, stable consumption, diffuse energy sources and decentralized conversion systems seems as realistic to policy makers as the other extreme-the centralized, nuclear-electric growth society. This flexibility could only emerge, however, if energy research expenditure is diversified very soon. (emphasis added)

And here is what we would now, after Unruh, call (carbon) “lock-in”

As Patterson puts it, “It is all too easy to let the momentum of past decisions define the limits of the future- even if these limits look very unattractive”. Cities and road systems become structured so that public transport is not as private transport; the tariff structure of electricity inhibits individuals from installing solar collectors for low grade heating; the private motor car industry has become so entrenched into societal infrastructure that the vigour of the automobile industry itself is regarded as a key indicator of community well-being, and special protective measures are set up by government to bolster car manufacture; the funding of research is biased in favour of advancing the trend of existing developed technologies, the dominance of which may be more a matter of historic accident and inertia than of coherent energy policy.
(W. C. Patterson, The Fissile Society. London, Earth Resources Research Ltd., 1977.)
page 72-3

And here’s the (for me) key argument against nuclear –

“The fast breeder- or fusion-based society, if fusion ever becomes feasible, would necessitate highly centralized bureaucracies to control electricity generation and supply. Both the manufacture of plant and the control of the fuel supply would involve high concentration of capital. The energy base of the community would be likely to be partly allied with the military base and there is the risk that aspects of civil energy supply might be cloaked in official secrecy. But if fusion became a reality, the radioactive waste problem should be smaller than with fission and the rate at which energy could potentially be made available may, according to popular view, be limited only by the thermal tolerance of the environment.”
page 74


“Given the large capital requirements, and the extent of technical changes needed, it is hard to envisage how Australia could make the rather abrupt transition into an economy based on coal and/or uranium while maintaining the political goal of annually rising energy consumption deemed necessary for growth in gross domestic product. If, however, that goal were achieved, this would propel the community on to another hazardous trajectory; hazards of climatic change for the coal option; hazards associated with indefinite management of radioactive wastes, with nuclear bomb proliferation, with unproven breeder and fusion technologies, and of globally centralized control of energy systems for the nuclear electricity
page 81

And it concludes

“An interesting possibility is that the measures which need to be taken to meet the short term crisis of the next two decades may swing community structure and attitude and bureaucratic organization into a conservation-minded pattern in which the long-term option based on low, stable consumption, diffuse energy sources and decentralized conversion systems seems as realistic to policy makers as the other extreme-the all nuclear-electric, growth society. A new flexibility thus would have appeared. But it can only appear if concerted steps are taken to diversify energy consumption behaviour and supply options very soon. This means that expenditure on research, development and demonstration of solar and wind energy technologies and for energy conservation problems needs to be made comparable with expenditure on oil, coal and nuclear energy research and development.”
page 82

Which, of course, didn’t happen. So, were are about to enter the age of consequences!!

Meanwhile, Helmut Schmidt, on a visit to American in [mid-July] 1979 told Abraham Ribicoff, chair of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs that in his judgement the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere represented a major threat to the future of humanity.
(Clark and Dickson, 2001; 289.)

To chase down-
Australia, Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, Report .from the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources. Solar Energy. Canberra, A.G.P.S.. 1977.

A. B. Lovins, “Energy Strategy: The Road not Taken?”. Foreign Affairs 55 ( I ) , October 1976. pp.65-96.

G. I . Pearman, “The Carbon-Dioxide Climate Problem: Recent Developments”, Clean Air. I I . 1977, pp.21-26.

R . B. Bacastow and C. D. Keeling. “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Radiocarbon in the Natural Carbon Cycle. 11. Changes from AD1700 to 2070 as Deduced by a Geochemical Model”. In G . M. Woodwell and E. V. Pecan (eds). Carbon and the Biosphere: Proceedings of 24th Brookhaven Symposium in Biology. Upton. New York, 1972. Ah, bless Google-

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