Category Archives: Australia

Australia as renewable energy superpower? Report on ANU Energy seminar 24 September 2020

This below, minus the hyperlinks, appeared on

Engaging with climate and energy policy in Australia can be bad for your neck. Either your head is in your hands as the latest political idiocy unfolds, or you suffer whiplash as you encounter smart concerned people who are dealing with real world issues.  It’s a long way from Angus Taylor’s grotesque display at the National Press Club on Tuesday to Thursday’s  public forum  “Australia: the global renewable energy pathfinder“, organised by the Energy Change Institute of Australian National University.

The contrast between the fantasy technologies and gassiness of the former and the big-picture -but- also -intensely-practical nature could not be any more stark.

Moderated by Dr Liz Ratnam, ANU and introduced by Prof Ken Baldwin, ECI Director , the seminar heard from five experts, followed by a Q and A.  The recording will be available in due course on ANU TV, and will be an invaluable resource for anyone interested in what is being done, and can be done to secure energy and electricity supplies for Australia’s future in ways which accept the reality of climate change and the need to do something (or rather, everything) about it.

Mark Williamson from the Clean Energy Regulator spoke on the latest solar and wind deployment trends.

He pointed to the huge increase in renewable generation over the last few years (from 1.2GW in 2016 to over 6GW last year.  Rooftop solar has been key to this, with a spike in utility scale solar 2018 and 2019, with 2020 as the year of new wind, but 2021 expected to be a year of utility-scale solar.

Williamson was at pains to point out that consumers acting totally rationally in purchasing rooftop solar.

Prof Andrew Blakers (ANU) spoke on Australia as the global renewable energy pathfinder in areas including deployment rates, greenhouse emissions trends, and South Australia’s goals.
Blakers has been working on renewables, both on the technology and the policy advocacy for thirty years, and has admirable and inexhaustible optimism.

He said that solar and wind have won the race ,and that it was hard to see other renewables catching up in next few decades.  He said that Australia is “right at the top” on the amount of total installed pv per capita and the speed with which it is deploying new solar pv per person per year  (of course, thanks to thirty years of successful resistance to the energy transition, Australia is also at the top in terms of per capita carbon footprint something neither Blakers nor any other panellist addressed.

Blakers argued that “something remarkable is happening in Australia.” By end of year wind and solar and hydro 26% of National Electricity Market, with  60% solar and wind in South Australia – making it the “most remarkable jurisdiction in the world”

He foresees solar and wind passing the combination of gas plus brown coal imminently, passing  black coal  in 2023 when Liddell closes and by 2025 will pass 50% of generation for the NEM. He was scathing about the gas that Angus Taylor shilled two days ago –

“Gas this wonderful transition fuel is pretty tired…. Gas is not a transition fuel, it’s just nonsense.

“Gas is on the way out, it is not on the way up”

As you’d expect, he argued for strong interstate transmission,  demand management and storage – pumped hydro and battery.  He urged everyone to “think big” pointing to the need to electrify everything, including heating and transport in order to decarbonise. This will need a tripling in electricity generation (450GW), and the solving of transmission into cities… Returning to this point in the Q&A he said ““Whatever we are dealing with here is just peanuts of where we will be.”

For Blakers, the policy imperative is simple “we need governments to quickly approve big fat cables to Renewable Energy Zones and to make it attractive for companies to build them”

Alex Wonhas (Chief System Design and Engineering Officer, AEMO) gave a presentation entitled “Yes we can – Australia’s future energy pathways. The 2020 Integrated System Plan and Renewable Energy Zones.”

He thanked the  200 people across the industry who had helped  produce the ISP– “it would not have been possible without their thoughtful and considered input.”

The ISP puts forward five different scenarios, with the step change one being consistent with the Paris Agreement aspirations (or obligations, depending on how you look at international law and intergenerational ethics). This goes beyond mere  least-cost replacement of soon-to-exit sources such as coal, for the reasons Blakers had mentioned.  Wonhas warned that

“the rate of change required is phenomenal” while also making the important but often-neglected point that consumers will save money if Australia moves to an intelligent and robust system, as opposed to a sub-optimised one.”

The challenge is enormous – 27 Gigawatts will be exiting over the coming 10 to 15 years, with – 22GW of this being coal.  Replacing this (let alone expanding generation) will require lots of new renewables and firming, in the form of all types of storage.

Although the challenge is enormous, Wonhas was cautiously optimistic, arguing that  we are already on the trajectory to do that It needs 2.6 Gig per annum  and “despite the challenges is something we can achieve today”.

Wonhas foresees that  “in 20 years 94% of Australia’s electricity will come from renewables, which would be a remarkable outcome.” He also argued that according to the careful modelling AEMO had done, “You don’t need a lot of baseload power”.

[Need 30 percent of 2 hour storage, 30 per cent 3 to 20 hrs, 20 percent above 12 hours, 20 behind the meter] while also warning that “From a technical point of view to get that system to work is not trivial.”

The four things required are

·        Supply and demand balance

·        Uncertainty and variability

·        Frequency

·        System strength and voltage

Wonhas was upbeat however, saying “We are fortunate that batteries are phenomenally good at managing frequency. It’s a question of getting incentives right to get battery operators to come into the market.”

He finished arguing that there is a  need to focus on developing and deploying new technologies, and that we “can manage through this transition…”

Dr Jenny Riesz (Principal, Operational Analysis and Engineering, Australian Energy Market Operator, AEMO) spoke compellingly and clearly on “Technical integration of Distributed Energy resources – An operational perspective,” drawing heavily on South Australia’s recent history and probably future. In one to three years operational demand in South Australia could become negative (the problem of “too much energy”)

[Update – on 28 September the South Australian Government came out with new regulations that newly installed rooftop solar would have to have a killswitch for those afternoons where supply outstripped demand.]

She focused on what AEMO has been doing around three particular challenges

Firstly, on distributed PV disconnection they have been working with a company (I think called Solar Analytics) for 2 years analysing real world behaviour,  and done bench-testing too. From the results of this they have calibrated their power system models, since a severe fault can cause significant disconnection, and loss of large unit alongside the loss  a great deal of PV (over 100MW)

Currently AEMO doesn’t have capacity if there were an islanding event in South Australia, with issues soon expected to  emerge in Victoria too. Riesz was explicit on the need to improve standards for distributed PV, and for standards for inverters: 30 to 40% of inverters not complying – installation process as the main issue.

Meanwhile, however Project Energy Connect (SA-NW) will increase resilience

Secondly, it’s obvious that there is a minimum load required to operate necessary units (system strength, inertia, frequency control, voltage management), especially if there are islanding events.

Minimum loads in South Australia have been as low as 379  (Didn’t catch the metric – MWh??) a few Sundays ago

AEMO is aware that it will need capacity to turn down distributed PV if there is an islanding event but definitely do not think that this would be regular occurence.

Finally, she spoke about Under Frequency load shedding.

A safety net for arresting severe events such as losing an interconnector, losing lots of generation

Controlled disconnection to stop frequency decline. As per Alex Wohnas, Reisz pointed to big batteries as being extremely good at frequency control. She pointed out that this had not been anticipated under the market rules, so it has been hard to incentivise, and needs figuring out.

The final speaker, Associate Professor Matt Stocks (ANU) spoke about The long term: 50-100% renewable electricity & energy (transmission and storage; increasing electricity demand from EVs and heating; FNQ connection).

Inevitably, his presentation also drew on the South Australian experience. He spoke about four particular issues-

Technological  Diversity

This leads to a need for mass storage, which is expensive, inefficient, but as lots of variable renewables come into the grid, becomes more important part of the system.  He argued that batteries ((behind the meter and grid) and pumped hydro are complementary rather than antithetical.

Wide geographical dispersion – smoothing-out local weather

He pointed to high voltage DC for moving energy long distances, giving the example of the  3000k long, 12 Gigawatts (a third of Australian demand) by China’s Changji Guquan HVDC with only  10% losses…

Another HVDC, a North Sea Link  is due to open in2021.

Demand management

Done well, Vehicle-to-Grid will provide lots of flexibility, as will behind the meter batteries.  More interconnection and smart demand management reduces the need for storage… and for the amount of overbuild required…

After showing work about the costs involved in supplying energy needs for three different kinds of grid (based on amount and type of interconnectedness) Stocks’ main point was that invest in transmission leads to less storage needs.

There was an extensive Q&A which I can’t do justice to.  Just a couple of key points must suffice-

Alex Wonhas argued for the need to establish standards and effective infrastructure and regulation for EVs sooner, rather than later, before EVs become really big. The right charging infrastructure is needed, but he doesn’t see urgency at the moment

For Jenny Reisz while Australia really is a pioneer, there is a need to do it all very quickly . It’s imperative to sort out power system security, all the frameworks and incentives

For Matt Stocks, the transmission challenge  is not a technology issue but also a policy one. Today’s system is very different from what it was built for, so AEMO’s ISP is crucial for identifying bottlenecks, unlock them…

Yes, there was a conspicuous absence of any discussion about what the other mob in Canberra – the politicos and the fossil fuel lobbyists – were doing and planning to do.  Yes there was the typical engineers’ perspective on what was technically possible rather than politically feasible (especially given the enormous power of the fossil lobby over both main political parties). 

Nonetheless, this was an informative and invigorating (even inspiring) webinar that is well worth a close and even-repeated watch.  There may be hope after all…

Every day is Groundhog Day for Australian climate politics #Auspol

The wonderful news and analysis source Reneweconomy pubilshed this piece below on Wednesday 23rd September.

The Czech writer Milan Kundera once observed that “the struggle of man against  power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

The same goes for the struggle for adequate climate and energy policy in Australia.

The first instinct is always to show how the announcement from the Government is inadequate, disingenuous or downright false.  On the latest “technology roadmap” we already have two excellent demolitions by  Adam Morton and, Michael Marzengarb. Doubtless Ketan Joshi and Simon Holmes a Court are working on theirs. Hopefully Lenore Taylor (who has been reporting on climate policy since about 1990) is also going to offer some insights. 

But this first instinct, to dive into the details, to show that you are on top of them, that you can spot chicanery around baselines and targets, that you know your CEFC from your ARENA, your BECCS from a hole in the ground, comes at a cost. If we all do this, we then don’t have the time or the attention of our readers to say this –

“Look, we are stuck in an endless cycle here. The Liberal Party policy was exactly the same in 2004-2006. Rising pressure for international action> Check. Huge support for fossil fuels? Check. Active naked hostility to renewables? Check. Culture war, lies about targets and baselines, and intimidation of opponents? Check.”

Let me explain a little bit of the back story (and I could – perhaps should – go back further, to the late 1980s, when the Liberals went to the 1990 Federal election with a more ambitious climate than the ALP – but that must be for another time).

John Howard became Prime Minister in March 1996. By this time the momentum towards an international agreement for rich nations to cut their emissions was unstoppable (the so-called Berlin Mandate of 1995). Australia would either have to sign up, or pull-out of the UNFCCC. While Howard was openly hostile to the UNFCCC (as many of Keating’s ministers had been), there were considerable diplomatic and domestic costs to a pullout, and these were to be avoided if at all possible. 

Therefore two strategies were used. The first was securing the best possible deal for Australia at the December 1997 Kyoto conference.  The other was to make it seem to domestic audiences that Australia was doing its bit.  Thus, In late 1997, just before his delegation set off to the Kyoto Conference John Howard made a speech with the grand title “Safeguarding the Future:  Australia’s Response to Climate Change.” In it, Howard promised to set up an Australian Greenhouse Office and also promised that by 2010 two percent of Australia’s electricity needs would be met by renewables (the so-called Mandatory Renewable Energy Target).

Howard and his allies then ignored the AGO, and set about weakening the MRET as much as they could. However, it came into existence in April 2002.  Despite being a shadow of what it could have been, it still meant there was official support for some renewables, and inventors and investors started creating markets.

Then – and this bit is crucial – Howard called a meeting of his friends in big business (and we should remember that Howard’s chief scientific advisor was Robin Batterham, who worked simultaneously for Rio Tinto).   And Howard told this meeting of the “Low Emissions Technology Advisory Group” –  (Exxon, BHP etc) that had to help him scupper renewables. We only know about this because someone, disgusted at the spectacle, leaked the minutes.

In the same year, 2004, Howard’s government released an Energy White Paper that was all about support for fossil fuel extraction, fantasy technologies like Carbon Capture and Storage, and active hostility to renewables (sound familiar?)

There was also the same loose talk we are seeing now about hitting targets (Australia had managed to get a 108% “reduction” target at Kyoto, and also a loophole clause around land clearing).  

The play book is simply this

  • Promote fossil fuels (the love has shifted to gas from coal, but the song remains the same)
  • Claim that you are hitting your targets anyway
  • Claim that renewables are small, unreliable etc
  • Shovel as much public money as you can towards extraction and make sure that there is no appetite among investors for renewables.

What is different?

History repeats, someone observed, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.  Not only have we poured vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past fifteen years, but we have built the infrastructure to make continued pouring inevitable, “sensible” and cheap.  Beyond that, ask yourself – who now would believe a Rudd-esque figure who used the language of “great moral challenge of our generation” and promised to do something about it?  When Rudd failed to call a double-dissolution election after his CPRS was defeated by Abbott, he killed not only his own popularity, but he created a cynicism and defeatism in Australia that made the Gillard package (different but not significantly better than Rudd’s) easy pickings.  The future is not written, but I would bet heavily against any sort of “salvation narrative” coming from the ALP, which is mostly – and understandably – trying to present a small target on climate, in the hope of picking up those elusive Queensland seats it needs to form a government.

Related to this, one of the things that made it possible for Rudd to do what he did, and tor Howard to be forced to act, was a groundswell of activity in the State governments (partly because Bob Carr had pushed relentlessly for so long for states-based Emissions Trading schemes).  

Ultimately, pressure would have to come from elsewhere, but it is hard (read impossible) to imagine where that might be from.

What is to be done?

Three things I think matter here. Firstly, we have to remember this history, pass it on to people coming into the debates about climate change so that the same tactics don’t keep. That’s a very large job of work, and needs academics and journalists to collaborate with story-tellers, animators etc, to move beyond the kind of article I’ve just written and tell it in compelling and memorable ways.

Secondly, we have to always contextualise whatever the day-to-day battle is, without succumbing to defeatism, exhaustion, fatalism (this is really hard, and if anyone has any top tips, I’m all ears).

Finally – and more controversially – I think it is time to move beyond the silliness of “accelerating transitions.”  This is the currently-fashionable buzzword among policy wonks and academics in the policy subsystems which concern themselves with the idea of a “good Anthropocene.” I think instead the time is at hand to talk about failed transitions. The contestation by incumbents has been so effective for so long that the window of opportunity has closed. We have ‘baked in’ some pretty drastic changes, and are going to need unprecedented courage, honesty, compassion and collaboration to deal with them.  Renewable energy technologies, distributed, robust, easily maintained and repaired, will be a crucial part of this.

Of #terrafurie, energy policy and groundhog day – #auspol #failedtransitions

I guess I have a millionth of an inkling of what it must be like to be a person of colour anywhere, but especially in the US, UK or Australia. Given that I am as whitebread as it comes, that needs an explanation.

One thing that comes through in reading people of colour, listening to them, is just how goddam exhausting it is to see your existence, your rights, your needs endlessly ignored, minimised. To see the work you did to improve the lot of your people hurled down memory holes while rich white people pretend to give a shit, and start each new response to a new scandal as if it was one of a kind, not part of an endlessly (?) repeated pattern of slow violence against other human beings and other species.

Put like that, it does kind of suck. And it is just so exhausting

Where does this come from? Well, last night I turned on the news and my body froze. It was the same old talk that we have had from the Liberals about technological “responses” to climate change. Other people (hello Adam Morton, Ketan Joshi, Michael Marzengarb) will go to town on it.

And there are a couple of people (especially Lenore Taylor, Laura Tingle, Clive Hamilton) who could say what needs saying –

“Look, we are stuck in an endless cycle here. The Liberal Party policy was exactly the same in 2004-2006. Rising pressure for international action> Check. Huge support for fossil fuels? Check. Active naked hostility to renewables? Check. Culture war, lies about targets and baselines, and intimidation of opponents? Check.”

So, the braying sheep on my TV screen
Make this boy shout, make this boy scream!

And I suppose it ties into a book – “Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World” by Glenn Albrecht- that I am reading (and then reviewing). I will admit to being merely whelmed by this one (though other people may find it more useful?) It’s full of neologisms, some of which may survive, others which are as doomed to die as our civilization. The one that makes sense here is this –

“Terrafurie is the extreme anger unleashed within those who can clearly see the self-destructive tendencies in the current forms of industrial-technological society but feel unable to change the direction of such tierracide and ecocide. The anger is also directed at challenging the status quo in both intellectual and socio-political terms. Terrafurie is anger targeted at those who command the forces of Earth destruction.”

(Albrecht, 2019: 86)

I think it is time to move beyond the silliness of “accelerating transitions” and talk about failed transitions, where the contestation by incumbents was so effective for so long that the window of opportunity has closed, and it is all over bar the shouting. And the dying. Thus #failedtransitions

But while I will say that, I will of course, persist in trying to salvage something from the wreckage. What else ya gonna do?

Excellent Event: Ambiguous Transformations: Governance, Democracy, #Climate Transitions

Here’s the gist of a very long blog post. A senior academic  (Professor Karin Bäckstrand) gave a very clear summation of the relative importance of the Paris Agreement, the distinctions between ecological democracy and environmental democracy and the (possible) path of transformation that Swedish society is undergoing. She did this in the context of an academic workshop in Vienna called ‘Transition Impossible.” What follows is a blow-by-blow account of her talk, the panel discussion afterwards and the questions from the floor (which were, on the whole, skeptical about the likelihood of a “deep” transformation. My comments – with minimum snark – are in [square brackets and coloured highlighting.] Then my editorialising is at the end of this very long blog post. A disclaimer – In no way am I doing this blog post at top speed to demonstrate my ability to absorb, synthesise and assess information while seeking out additional sources to show that I would be an excellent post-doctoral candidate. Cough. Cough. Especially given that my PhD has been about the under-studied politics of socio-technical transitions, a lack noticed during the talk and the Q and a.. Cough. Cough.

Professor Bäckstrand began her talk, titled “Ambiguous Transformations: Governance, Democracy, Climate Transitions” with a thanks to the organisers for “a very timely conference”. The workshop, entitled “Transition Impossible? Ambiguous Transformations and the Resilience of Unsustainability” was, she said, “at the heart of what I and many colleagues are researching.”

Bäckstrand admitted that – based on what she’d seen of the conference so far (it’s the end of the first day) – admitted that she was more optimistic than the average participant about the possibilities for transition, but admitted that being from Sweden may have shaped that.  [The author of this blog is ever-so-slightly more pessimistic. Being from Australia/UK, he is shaped by that]

Bäckstrand said that ecological democracy etc is the key question – (how) we can bring radical societal transformation towards decarbonisation and make them compatible with principles of green ecological democracy.

Admitting to being a ‘COP junkie’ she began with a Paris Agreement (PA) recap. While admitting that PA will by no means transform the world, she said that it nonetheless sets out a framework… 179 countries, each with “Nationally Determined Contributions” and climate plans [Very very few industrialised countries are on track, and Paris would lead to 3.4 degrees of warming in any case. As for Australia, do not talk to me about Australia. As for Paris, see my cod-psychology explanation of the hype/hope]

She also mentioned having been at the recent Global Climate Action Summit, 13-14 September in San Francisco. Planning for it started with Governor Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg back in November 2016 after Trump won the election (with 3 million less votes than Clinton. Some would say a lot of greenwashing, but also a reaction whereby cities and regions take on commitments, new alliances shaped, which is critical for transformation.

Bäckstrand then turned to Sweden, which aims to become one of the world’s first nations to go 100% fossil fuel free  [See a blog post by me and my brilliant colleague Joe Blakey on the ‘meaning of zero carbon’]

This, Bäckstrand said, will be done in a deliberative and democratic way, and is a far reaching societal transformation and decarbonisation in line with Paris towards a carbon neutral society compatible with principles of ecological or environmental democracy (of which more later).

The key questions are – how can democracy or values of democracy (participation, inclusion, transparency) be secured in governance towards low carbon society? Is democracy fit for the task to secure sustainability in the large scale transformation and decarbonisation of society and economy?

Bäckstrand then supplied a bullet pointed list of what she would cover..

  • Politics, power, democracy are missing in the narratives on transformative shifts, which are dominated by techno-centric and market-oriented strategies of transformation
  • Multiple, multi-directional and contested transformations
  • Decarbonisastion reinforces dilemma of strong environmental outcome versus democratic procedure
  • Democratic values of transparency, fairness, inclusion, representation and accountability are needed in large-scale transformative action called for to implement the Paris Agreement and Agenda 2030 [but then, who remembers Local Agenda 21?]
  • Tensions between democracy and sustainability, and the ideal of ecological democracy and practice of environmental democracy
  • What transitions: from ST transition towards a politics of green transformation: Four strategies of transformation
  • Resolving the tension between democracy and decarbonisation.
  • Arguments of green authoritarianism (Lovelock etc) are returning. Planetary emergency calling for extraordinary measures…
  • Sweden combines ambitious transformative action with participatory and democratic process [Ah, the books that Per Wahloo would write now!]
  • Public trust is at low point, populist on rise, Swedish Democrats got 17 per cent. Previously said wanted to pull out of Paris. Called for a “Swexit”…
  • Withdraw from multilateralism – enormous challenge…

The Background

  • challenge of democracy in post-democratic era
  • Paris paved way aspirational goal settings for states to be carbon free by 2050
  • Unleashed low carbon roadmaps by 2020, 2030 and 2050.
  • Disjuncture between a radical goal of green transformation and our existing political institutions
  • Polycentrism and networked governance emphasizes, decentralisation, local embedding, self-governance experimentation networking, giving up ‘big politics’ by states and governments. (Voss and Schroth, 2018)

Ecological democracy versus eco-authoritarianism

  • Liberal democracies well positioned to address climate change as they are open for public and popular demands for public good provisions
  • Positive relationship between green values and green democracy
  • Deliberative democracy model for connecting democracy with green or sustainable outcomes. Dryzek, Smith 2003, Bäckstrand et al 2010


  • Liberal democracies with free choice generates individualism, profit seeking and over-consumption colliding with sustainability values (Heilbroner, 1977))
  • Democracy too slow, cumbersome, captured by interest groups
  • Central authority needed to steer society toward large-scale transformation within planetary boundaries.
  • Veto actors, incumbents can slow decision making

Implication that we need technocracy or global panel of experts. [Or, in the words of one rising academic star, we need avivocracy]

For Bäckstrand, the rise of eco-authoritarianism is very problematic.  Together with Jonathan Pickering she has acted as co-editor in Journal of Environmental Public Planning (special issue)  Here below, stolen from her slides, is a table comparing ecological and environmental democracy…

Ecological Democracy Environmental Democracy
Value orientation ecocentric anthropocentric
Ideological orientation critical of liberalism Compatible with liberalism
Discursive orientation green transformation/radicalism critical of states and multilateral system sustainable development and ecological modernisation
Role of state critical of states and multilateral system versus working within state and multilateral system
Role of capitalism/markets critical of capitalism reconciled with capitalism
Role of civil society civil society as resistance/opposition/critique civil society as active partner.

In summary – Environmental democracy advocates say modifying existing institutions of liberal democracy and capitalism is the best way forward. Ecological democracy proponents have instead a “fundamental transformation required” message.

Backstrand then showed a graph, from showing the emissions gap between what we have and what we need to hit 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees

cat emissions gap

Clearly needs transformation of economy and society.

NB Paris in and of itself cannot be transformative,  In a way Paris domesticizes (down to national level) the international system.

Issues of accountability, transparency, inclusion are therefore very important.

Civil society, citizens, other states can review how on track or not nations are [see the recent Australia versus Pacific islands moment as an example of how (in)effective the moral complaints of small actors are, and have been over the last 30 years…]

For Bäckstrand, it is crucially important for states to be held accountable for action/lack of action.

In transition management field (Kemp and Rotmans 2009) need to focus on conflicting interests, asymmetrical power relationships, incumbent power, veto players.  Transitions literature overly focuses on governance of transitions, transformative pathways and planetary management, rather than the POLITICS of transformation [btw, did I mention I have just written an entire thesis on this?]

Multiple and contested transformations are occurring/would need to occur at local, national, multilateral and transnational sites, i.e, not one linear transformative path.

Drawing on the seminal book edited by Scoones, Leach, Newell 2015, (and also citing Clapp and Daveurgne 2011) Bäckstrand identified four strategies for green transformation

  • Technoscientific transformation = clean and green techs, renewables, CCS etc
  • Marketised transformation = green growth, green economy, carbon markets,CDM, payment for ecosystem services
  • Government-led transformation = top down, green state is the facilitator of transformation to sustainability or carbon neutrality (Duit 2014, Meadowcroft 2011, Eckersley 2004, Bäckstrand and Kronsel 2015, UNEP, global green deal.
  • Citizen-led transformation = bottom-up, degrowth, citizen science, lifestyle politics, climate justice, just transitions

[Track record of first three lousy. Fourth is just Naomi Klein’s so-called “blockadia”, no?]

Techno scientific and marketised strategies are very dominant (#understatement)

At all the summits enormous mobilisation and protest (e.g de Moor article on the ‘efficacy dilemma of transnational climate activism’).  However, as Dryzek has written, these radical climate justice movement types are very separated from the decision making powers.

Having laid out this conceptual landscape, Professor Bäckstrand then turned to her empirical case – Sweden

  • It is the most advanced green state, alongside the Nordics (see Ecksrley 2004; Bäckstrand and Kronsell 2015)
  • It has the goal to be first fossil free welfare state in the world, by 2045
  • Fossil free Sweden” government led stakeholder mechanism with 300 municipalities, companies, civil society actors (now 400 actors)
  • Led by chair of Swedish Conservation Society (was ‘co-optation’ critique)
  • Since January 1 2018, Sweden has a Climate Law, the Climate Policy Council – should every year scrutinise governments every year

So, can Sweden escape the carbon lock-in [Unruh] while keeping its democratic values?  Former deputy PM (Green) said at Paris that Sweden should be first fossil- free by 2045. Cynics would say just rhetoric, but it’s being backed up:  Every four years an extended review. Independent council with scientific experts.

This is a State-led transformation – collective visions of climate just world building on ideas of Green People’s Home

It is primarily Techno-centric transformation as evident in goals to produce fossil-free steel production, bio-CCS and, yes, nuclear energy,  Alongside this, it is also a Market-oriented transformation: Sweden was a first state with carbon tax and green tax shift with bipartisan support (was idea of Green Party, in practice lib and conservative alliance that did this – shift from income tax to green taxes)

There was consensus among 7 parliamentary parties (after 2 years parliamentary commission) along left-liberal-green conservative continuum (except for the Swedish Democrats) for the Climate Law, Climate Policy Council and the goals of 2030 and 2045. There have been new coalitions between different actors – municipalities, trade unions, companies, investors, as illustrated by government led Fossil Fee Sweden civil society led Climate Sweden and business—led Haga Initiative.  So we can see the following –

  •  State as an orchestrator or facilitator for climate action – government led Fossil Fuel  Sweden gathering
  • Framing climate change narratives towards justice: Just Transition by trade unions
  • Climate change co-benefits; energy security, (not to be dependent on Russian gas!) health, biodiversity, clean air, sustainable cities

This is environmental democracy rather than ecological democracy ideals, i.e. a [putative] transformation within capitalism. So far, Sweden has decreased greenhouse gas emissions by 26 per cent since 1990 [as was later clarified, this – importantly – was on production-based metrics] and the economy has grown.

The largest challenge is Sweden’s transport sector. It is currently reducing by 2 to 3 per cent per year. However, to hit the targets, it would need to increase that to 4, 5 or even 7 per cent per annum: This would need (costly) high speed trains, electrification…


Sociotechnical transition literature does not pay enough attention to politics, power and contestation of transformative shifts  [Ah, Chapter 2 of my PhD thesis! In case you hadn’t heard me say that before…]

  • Democracy has been downplayed in the scholarship and practice of decarbonization and transition studies
  • We need to open up for public dialogue, reframing and deliberation as part of the process of knowledge production for transformation
  • Polcyentrism emphaizes decentraliztion (Backstrand admits to being increasingly skeptical on the usefulness of this)
  • Paris Agreement has precipitated national target setting and time-tables, but this is very uneven
  • Low-carbon transformations are currently dominated by techno-scientific and market-orientated strategies
  • Swedish case underlines importance of state-led transformations
  • Accountability, deliberation and representation along environmental democracy ideals need to be secured for meaningful green transformation and decarbonisation
  • Sweden on track to be green decarbonised state

But there are of course many challenges,  Broad pubic civil society and parliamentary support for transformation to a fossil-free state.

The Panel discussion

At this point, the chair Fred Luks of the Competence Centre for Sustainability, thanked her for “an optimistic, even patriotic, speech” and introduced the panel. This was made up of economist Professor Sigrid Stagl, political scientist etc Professor James Meadowcroft, and Michael Deflorian of the Institute for Social Change and Sustainability.

Luks began to Professor Bäckstrand;  “What is the ambiguity in your title?”

Bäckstrand – daily politics. The difficult moment after the recent Swedish election… Largest nationalist anti-immigrant party that has wanting to leave EU, climate denialism. We have our Trump moment. If they gain more strength and power we will definitely have an ambiguous transformation. Of course we have enormous challenges, above all with transformation… especially transport. And more than climate change, also Sweden is far from reaching its biodiversity goals. Very contested around forest policy – (many argue that commercial interests too powerful).

James Meadowcroft then made two observations. One, overall a positive picture of intentions and reductions over last few decades. So that’s a political accomplishment, but the political significance is enormous to move beyond fossil fuels “This energy source is dated,” is a message transmitted to all actors… Over the past two years a number of other countries have said similar things, albeit not economy-wide. E.g. UK’s “get rid of ICE by 2040 “. Within a few months of these announcements, the head of GM went to China and she had one objective – to stop China announcing end of ICE, given that GM strategy had been for hybrids for 20 yrs before a switch to electrics… Incumbents are aware the change is coming, trying to put it off 15 or 20 years, can make billions in the meantime. It’s not the infrastructure, its the patents etc…. Now seeing fightback in many countries around the world. Trump cancelling subsidies. Ontario – first thing new populist leader did was to scrap the cap and trade trading scheme, and also to end subsidy for buying of electric vehicles: ‘no subsidies for Tesla’… (Meadowcroft continued that this was of course thrown out by the courts because it was obviously discriminatory. But they hate Tesla!),  Sweden has best possible situation (but no fossil fuels). So , reality check from… Canada. – oil and gas crucial, alongside auto-parts. Canada a long way from making any pledge. Everyone knows tar sands not compatible even with two degrees of warming, can’t say it publicly, so worm around it. But no coincidence that leaders like Sweden and California not exporters of fossil fuels.

Luks then asked Stagl – is this too optimistic?

Stagl: There is more potential than in Austria, which had its environmental leadership moment decades ago. We have lost our way in terms of active climate policy… To Bäckstrand she observed “You were talking about ecological and environmental democracy. You referred mostly to environmental democracy though. You had ecocentric – there was a debate in ecological economics, which even that is anthropocentric. (Stagl said she was a fan of the Arne Naess deep ecology view).

Stagl then asked the crucial question (imho)- was the vaunted 26% reduction a production-based or consumption-based? Came the answer that it was is a production based one.

Stagke asked another corker – Is there a public debate in Sweden to go beyond growth?   Also, what  role of trade unions – are they reshaping the discourse? (In Austria for very long time TUs were obstructors)

Michael Deflorian began his comments by admitting that he had lived in Sweden for two years doing his masters, and had thought ‘Sweden is red-green utopia, so let’s go there,’ But of course, not as utopian as a lot of Germans and Austrians might think… [At this point the song Sweden by The Divine Comedy comes to mind…] Deflorian asked if Sweden is also planning to become extraction free, given that there is minerals mining in the North (Samis). He pointed to the notion of “cultural laboratories” with Sweden having strong potential for this.

Ex-climate activists going into this sort of ‘laboratory/prefigurative’ work, but the question remains whether people are trying to go beyond all parts of their life or just one arena, and this doesn’t happen in political vacuum. [In the radical environmental journal ‘Do or Die’, in the 1990s, there was discussion of this – permaculture as a retirement home project for burnt out anti-roads protestors]

Meanwhile, of course rightwing populists say ‘the boat is full’ and when RW Populitsts get in power their decisions have immediate effect [see Trump and EPA etc – though there is a limit to the wrecking he has been able to do].

At this point the chair (Fred Luks) pointed out that for all its plans, the Swedish state had recently issued a pamphlet to all citizens ‘if crisis or war comes’

Karin Bäckstrand thanked the panel for its questions and gave answers-

  • Extractive industries are indeed expanding. Contestation – court cases etc Also wind power siting (with Sami). And then there is the history of colonialism.
  • Is there a counter-movement?  Two trends. Hyper-individualist  (most single-occupancy housing in world; 300k Swedes fly to Thailand every year to get some sun) but also highest percentage of members in nature conservation organisations, This is very ‘double’ Meanwhile Swedish church are increasingly involved –
  • On trade unions – also double – the Central have taken forward ambitious plans, go to COPs etc, on the other hand, exodus of voters from trade unions to Swedish Democrats: More from unions went to Swedish Democrats than from conservatives
  • Is economic growth etc being debated/discussed? Green Party (close to losing their seats, having been in coalition government for 4 years). They used to have zero economic growth in manifesto. Then ‘realos’ took over (very contested) and deleted that part of the programme. It had been debated among the public… green inclusive growth is the dominant discourse.
  • Ecological democracy vs environmental democracy –well the idea of future generations, non-human animals etc is not a big thing in Sweden (compared to constitutional change in other countries – Costa Rica etc)
  • The panel came back with some further comments.

James Meadowcroft – why would we think everything has to change at once and everything has to go in one direction? In history we see bumps, reverses, movements splitting and reforming, huge opposition. Many movements go right down to the wire, to the last minute. Then the change comes and they can’t quite remember ten years later that it was in any way different [See Kathleen Blee’s excellent book on this Democracy in the Making]. Social change is like this – ‘where is it possible to make progress’ and focus attention on that. As the dialectic is, as the progress works, it will throw up side-effects etc.

e.g. if production emissions are coming down, great – but inevitably the debate will come onto consumption-based metrics. By the time that happens the countries that Sweden imports stuff from will have begun to dematerialise their production too…. We must get away from thinking can solve all problems at once.

Fred Luks then sought to move beyond Sweden – “We’re not talking about “reform” we’re talk about trasnformation (E.g. Polayni 1944 and coming of market society , after which nothing was the same). Is Sweden anywhere on the road to a great transformation? And where is the resistance?” He then cited Ulrich Brand and  Martin Wissen “The Limits of Capitalist Nature: Theorizing and Hierarchies of Belonging in Overcoming the Context The Imperial Way of Living” When you try to do anything, there is resistance. There are privileges…

Michael Deflorian  : We can see the resistance- rightwing populism.  E,g, Vice Chancellor in Austria openly denying climate change.  Also We have resistance within ourselves too. The EPA on formative mileux. The post-materialist ones have second highest carbon footprints… [See also Professor Kevin Anderson here – we see the high polluters when we shave in the morning…!] We could say, with Ingolfur Bluhdorn, that all this transformation talk is simulation…

James Meadowcroft :  The question makes me want to be contrarian. Which aspects exactly are you unhappy with?  Flying? Meat eating? Having kids? I’m not convinced that’s the way we’re going to solve the problem. If stop burning fossil fuels, solve energy problem, can use as much as we like. We need to remember different scales matter – local environmental problems often life-threatening. Great Transformation may take another century or two. Tackling local problems may give us breathing space… We’re going to have to grope our way forward over many decades…

[This reminds me of Michael Thompson’s talk of ‘clumsy institutions’. See also wicked problems. Of course, super-wicked problems are a different problem…]

Sigrid Stagl : On the biggest resistance (having spoken to investors this afternoon). Well, divestment rhetoric that works is powerful. For the rest, it’s still the game ‘why me? I’m busy writing reports, trying to be more efficient. We are x and y certified, we are doing a lot…. [compare Wright and Nyberg and corporate (in)activity and self-delusion].

Karin Bäckstrand on the subject of resistance –

  • Swedish Democrats. They wanted Lower tax to cut EPA funding and withdraw from EU (all under anti-immigration umbrella). This withdrawal from the EU stance cost them votes – the EU is becoming steadily more popular with Swedish votters…
  • Aviation tax  as a potential point of conflict– Sweden had a uniilateral one. Many businesses have to fly – “we need domestic aviation”….
  • And the car industry – Volvo and Saab (previously) as potential intransigent actors…

Questions from the floor

The chair did something I’ve seen also done in Australia – and I think should be the norm – they kept hold of the microphone, and this – as in Australia – tended to reduce the speechifying element of the questions…

First question was from Ingoflur Bluhdorn  I like all this optimism, I like all this hope. Gives me injection of energy in both directions… Sweden as pioneer is one narrative, there are others. Sweden in a number of respects is a very exceptional set up, almost in an aquarium. In terms of “Lifeworld environmentalism” (as per Daniel Hausknost’s paper in the opening session of the conference) Sweden is a particularly good example. Sweden may follow the Germany and Austria trajectory (of previous environmental ‘leadership’ that runs into the sand. THAT is more likely – (Backstrand challenged to defend…)

Bäckstrand : Swedish Democrats hoped they’d be second largest party, they became third. Their mistake was to talk about Swexit, which scared Swedish public. Support for EU has increased every year… We see actually – via Gothenberg public opinion surveys- environment has risen on public salience. It was 8th, now 2nd. Yes, right now we have one of largest right-wing parties in Europe. And yes, Swedish is a deviant case. (carbon free electricity based on hydro, nuclear and renewables). Yes, an outlier.
James Meadowcroft :  It would indeed be a transformation if went in that direction, but not a great transformation. What would 30 years of right wing populism do? They are reactionary movements, which ultimately will be ground over, by innovation and change at many levels. Renewables, battery technologies will make many lower carbon options viable, just on convenience/cost grounds alone,

Question – Daniel Hausknost : It’s important that there are front runners like Sweden – those who can lead should lead- there is scope for change underneath glass ceiling. But it’s not, James, a stepladder of production decarbonisation and then consumption. Previous decarbonisations were based on moving production to elsewhere! Embodied emissions go up, [At this point, an hour and a half of typing in, the author began to think about games of ‘Step ladder or snakes and ladders’ and if someone will give him funding to develop that] And as per Karin, Sweden has lots of land, forests, low population. Energy density and area matters (as in the past). You need to lower consumption of meat etc, you can’t just substitute other energy sources for fossil fuels

James Meadowcroft:  I agree with Daniel – need to transform agro-food sector. But HOW? I want to deal with production and consumption together…. About half the emissions reductions in Europe were due to independent factors (Germany unifying and shutting down hopelessly inefficient East German industry, the UK and dash for gas) BUT the other half was due to deployment of renewables, more efficient homes etc.

Ingolfur Bluhdorn :  do you have carbon footprint on consumption side in Sweden?

Karin Bäckstrand : (after voicing agreement with Daniel and Ingoflur) Yes, Climate Council beginning to look at consumption based Sweden doesn’t come out very well “figures aren’t very good”, And bio-economy and biofuels were hyper optimistic (new generation of fuels for aviation). But even with lots of land, not feasible/realistic… In electoral campaign, this was debated. Greens always say ‘reduce air travel/need quotas on transatlantic travel’. Even conservatives saying ‘need to reduce (air) travel’, in context of those who want massive role out of biofuels.

Question to James – we’re used to critiising movements for big vision creation, but they’re crucial for mobilising… (example from 1900 given!) Isn’t ‘incremental steps’ harmful?

James Meadowcroft:  pie in the sky narratives, when they fail, mean activists drift away… I’m NOT saying ‘only little changes’… The problem with major social change is it grinds up people, it’s great for their great grandchildren, but individualss lose jobs, never work again etc… e,g Women in science -lots of sacrifice, only granddaughters benefit…

Question (from author of blog) : When will we know if Sweden is on the right path? HOW? Is it in two years, five years? What if the consumption-based metrics say you can’t have 300 thousand Swedes getting a Thai tan?

Karin Bäckstrand ; We will keep track every year – development of emissions reductions plans, what kind of policies they have implemented, (e.g., high speed trains). This will then scrutinised. Also a lengthy review every four years. Without that solid review, it will be very hard to predict, and it will be very much rhetoric. With emission reduction rate is not enough, it needs to be doubled at least….

Sigrid Stagl : –ongoing green growth orientation versus consumption based is problematic, I think. … Pathways Pick and Yasser 50 percent every ten years, frontloading the effort is a long way away.

Michael Deflorian : we get there if we do x y and z. What is the role of researchers/academics with this kind of council? We as researchers are supposed to tell publics and policymakers how we get there. But we also need diagnosis of why we haven’t reached those previous goals over last two decades. It’s not enough to only have present focus. We should also consider the role that we as researchers have.

Question from Margaret Haderer – women trying to enter science It did make a difference, took time. But at the moment, looking at this plan, it seems there’s little sacrifice for Swedes, just ‘’do as you have, only more efficient’… Is what we’re proposing morally/ethically the right thing? Are we the good guys/ It’s just the same ecological modernisation story (gets applause!)

James Meadowcroft – so ‘if they’re not suffering, they’re not contributing’? Not sure why you think that… – rich prosperous people not suffering? Swedes aren’t sacrificing enough?  [I have not captured the nuance of either the question or the reply on this one – I will admit that I was flagging]

After a question/comment about the availability of battery storage technologies, the last question came from an interesting freelance journo: We need trustworthy information for democracy. What does transition require from the mass media, implementing for example the Aarhus Declaration?

Michael Deflorian ;  What is happening in cyberspace (echo-chambers and filter bubbles) – are we not in one ourselves, about how good transformation will be… Digital democratic space is falling apart, and no way other than nationalising Facebook and Google to deal with this.

James Meadowcroft :– (in response to the battery question – technological change vs behavioural/social change is something I take very seriously. I do NOT say a tech gizmo will solve all our sustainability problems. But I do believe that can provide all energy services in rich world can come from sources that don’t pollute. That’s because 2/3rds of fossil energy goes up as heat! Present techs in battery does have problems, but LOTS of research and development (more in last 10 than in previous 50). Won’t always be stuck with polluting storage technologies. We won’t have to go back to living in caves, and it’s not true and it’s been propagated in part by fossil fuel lobby.

Sigrid Stagl – I agree with both scepticism about reenewables and also enthusiasm. Solar panels now a tenth of what they cost seven years ago. In response government of lower Austria has cut subsidies. Now householders would have to pay less (because of the price drop), but there is less uptake because of the lower subsidies!

Karin Bäckstrand – technology and behaviour are integrated.  Utmost importance of public access to information. Sweden has a far-reaching act on this. Civil society must be watchdogs for what governments are on track or not. There are now a lot of civil society review mechanisms Equity reviews too.- to what level including distributional justice etc. And yes, social media climate is extremely bifurcated in Europe. Climate denial viral there…

My summation.
A very good evening. Well chaired, very clear presentation (overly optimistic for my taste, but tbh anything short of ‘we’re all going to die horrible deaths in the grim meathook future much sooner than you think’ would get the same criticism from me!). Panellists did very well, as did the expert chair, who kept it flowing and brought it in on time.

The whole Sweden thing sounds great. I hope it works and I especially hope I get a post-doc to watch how it unfolds (popcorn and the apocalypse- yum!).

I would say that we tried ‘Ecologically Sustainable Development’ in Australia in the late 80s and early 90s and it died a death. As Frank Turner sings

But it was worse when we turned to the kids on the left
And got let down again by some poor excuse for protest
Yeah by idiot fucking hippies in 50 different factions
Who are locked inside some kind of 60’s battle re-enactment
And I hung-up my banner in disgust and I head for the door

For me, then, as a quasi/proto/whatever academic, the research agenda/research questions are these:

Firstly, how do we have sustained social movement agitation that is constantly chivvying the state and business, forcing them to make promises and also watchdogging them relentlessly into keeping the promises? How are those social movements able to sustain themselves, without being co-opted and/or repressed? How can social movements avoid the smugosphere, the emotathons and the theme park of radical action?

Secondly, how can we expect the enemies of social movements (and as Pogo said, we have met the enemy and he is us) to monkey wrench those social movements and their activities?

Lenore Taylor, Mike Seccombe & Australian #climate politics – institutional memory

Australian content alert: Yeah, this is a bit of geekery.

There’s a Sunday morning politics show called  Insiders, which is a ritual thing I do with my mum and her next door neighbour. The format is solid (stolid?)- a host (usually Barrie Cassidy) and three hacks, sorry, journalists. There’s a long interview with a pollie, a roundup of cartoons and photos, and a comedy video skit. Bish bosh, all done in an hour.

Two weeks ago, two of the three hacks, sorry, journos, were Lenore Taylor (now editor of the Guardian but she has worked everywhere) and Mike Seccombe, now of the Saturday Paper.

At the end of the show Barrie Cassidy invites the hacks to say one thing each as a takeaway. That’s usually some observation about the horserace politics of it all. But two weeks ago Lenore Taylor pointed to the ‘planet may become unlivable’ study and Mike Seccombe wondered out loud about all these farmers suffering from drought who consistently vote for climate-change-denying politicians in the National Party and when that might change.

The thing is this. Lenore Taylor has been reporting -very very astutely- on environmental stuff since at least 1989. She reported for the Australian on the December 1989 summit that kicked off the legendary (I move in small circles) Ecologically Sustainable Development process.

1989 12 08 secret green summit praised theaus p3.png

Taylor, L. 1989. Secret Green Summit Praised. The Australian, 8 December, p3

Meanwhile, in December 1991, Mike Seccombe had a front page story on the Sydney Morning Herald about the final reports of the ESD process.

1991 12 03 blueprint for greener oz smh1.png

Seccombe, M. 1991. Blueprint for a greener Australia. Sydney Morning Herald, 3 December, p.1.

So, while Laura Tingle’s point about lack of institutional memory in political parties, bureaucracies and the media is mostly accurate, there are exceptions. And very fine exceptions indeed.

We’re toast. It’s not a problem of science- the scientists communicated. It’s not a problem of (some) journalism – we’ve had brave and smart reporters. It’s a problem of the power of incumbents, and an inability of social movements to sustain themselves. Or it was. Now, now our problems are different. And a little bit bigger.

Books I absolutely did not buy #94. Absolutely not… (forgive me, Dr Wifey)

I didn’t go to the secondhand book fair on Fullarton Road today.  I didn’t buy the following books.  And I give my reasons why I didn’t buy each on


earth sound coverI didn’t buy this 1975 disaster novel for a buck, written as it is by the guy who a couple of years later did the first real climate change novel (cli-fi as it’s now called) ‘Heat’.  Definitely didn’t buy this because of the whole ‘earthquake’ thing like Icequake and that British one.i I can’t remember the title of.








earth sound back cover.jpg

ruins of earth cover.JPGI didn’t buy this collection of short stories about ecological devastation, published in 1973, which in no way connects to my fascination with that late 60s/early 70s sense of ‘oh fuck’.  Nope, didn’t buy this, even though it was only a buck.






aus sci fi back cover2.JPG

It’s really good that I didn’t buy those two, because then I’d have had momentum towards buying this volume on Australian Science Fiction, published in 1982.

aus sci fi cover.JPGaus sci fi back cover.JPG

and amidst all of that, if I had bought those three, I’d have felt compelled (despite its lurid cover) to buy a novel, published in 1970, by Marge Piercy (author of the brilliant Vida, Body of Glass and Gone to Soldiers) about doomed radicals.  I mean, it was only a buck, but I resisted, oh yes.

dance the eagle to sleep cover

dance the eagle to sleep back cover.JPG

And having resisted all those purchases, it took every ounce of willpower not to buy a famous Australian proletarian novel – one which I am only aware of because of very smart commenters on the Conversation, also for a buck….

unknown industrial prisoner cover.JPG

and having not bought those, it was relatively easy to not buy two Parker novels for two bucks each.  So I won’t get to read more adventures of a fantastically amoral killer, books.  So, dodged some bullets, eh?

man with getaway face cover.JPG

the jugger cover.JPG

“Stop building coal-fired power stations” say green groups. In 1988. #auspol #climate ffs

This species. I mean, seriously.


1988 11 07 greenhouse switch

Anon, 1988. Greenhouse Switch. Australian Financial Review, 7 November, p.4

Australian governments should stop building coal-fired power stations as a start to combatting the greenhouse effect, conservation groups said yesterday. A group of 25 conservation, consumer and other community organisations said brown coal was the “dirtiest” of the fossil fuels and produced higher levels of carbon dioxide than black coal, oil and natural gas. Increased emissions of gases, such as carbon dioxide, have been blamed for a forecast gradual warming of the earth’s atmosphere. The group said Australia should start switching power generation to the cleanest fossil fuel – natural gas.




Save the earth? Yes, but not if it costs…. #auspol #climate history 1982

So, there was this thing called the Australian Environment Council, made up of Federal and State ministers of the environment. It was set up in 1972 and had a long-ish run.  And, as is the nature of these beasts, it produced Reports.

And number 7, published in 1982,  was on the public’s willingness to pay for clean air.

1982 aec public willingness cover


And this on page 4 (part of the executive summary) is (pardon the pun) priceless.

1982 aec publiic willingness p4
Plus ca change….

(And no, I am not falling for the regressive/reactionary line that individual consumers are to blame, that there is no such thing as capitalism/state constraint of ‘choices’.  I’m just saying that unless civil society organisations work harder and smarter than they have done then these sorts of ‘tragedy of the commons’ things are very likely.)

What we knew on #climate in 1971… #auspol

A couple of years ago the folks at the Conversation asked me to bash out a piece on what Australians knew about climate change in the late 60s, early 70s. I did an okay-ish job, but have since radically expanded my knowledge of that period.  What we have below is not the first mention of climate change in books (you could see A Dirty Story and The Effluent Society both published 1970), but this is one of the more detailed ones, and was written by a couple of well-respected scientists.

I plan, #afterthethesis (which is imminent), to do something more systematic about who said what when (and it went all the way to the top – Deputy Prime Minister Doug Anthony, in 1971, f. ex).  For now, this – climate change was being spoken of in terms of foreboding back in 1968-9 by Australian scientists…

1971 conservation cover

but don’t judge a book just by its FRONT cover…

1971 conservation back cover

and then there is a mention in the first chapter…

1971 conservation page 27

1971 conservation page 28

Costin, A and Marples, T. 1971. The Nature and Quality of Resources in Costin, A and Frith, H. (eds) Conservation. Ringwood, Victoria: Pelican pp.  11-42.

We’re so toast.

WTAF ABC? Deafening #climate silence on Radio National. #frydenberg #auspol #chomsky

‘The Australian Energy Market Operator has just released a report on the future of the Australian energy market.  Giles Parkinson over at has probably already got a 4000 word forensic demolition of it posted [sort of].  It is clearly going to be used by various shades of fossil fuel friends to say “only coal can provide reliable cheap baseload power,” their dominant (and false to the point of hilarity) meme.

But this: This morning as I walked around the park with the backpack full of logs and bricks, I had my transistor radio with me.  And I heard an extraordinarily poor interview on the flagship RadioNational program by some guy called Hamish McDonald, interviewing the energy and environment minister Josh Frydenberg about the AEMO report.  It went on for about fifteen excruciating minutes.  Here are some words that never were uttered: climate change, carbon dioxide, emissions, Paris Agreement.

I can understand Frydenberg not wanting to bring them up (every time he does, the Nationals have a hissy fit), but the craven surrender by the ABC guy (the ABC is being bullied into submission much as the BBC has been) will be very hard to explain to kids 20 years from now, as the really serious shit is hitting the fan.

Chomsky nailed this when he and Edward Herman talked about the manufacturing of consent, of thought control in democratic societies.

And here, courtesy of a brilliant friend of mine, is a twitter thread from Alex Steffen

It is very difficult for most members of the American press/academia/punditry to accept the idea that their core thinking on climate change and the planetary crisis has been bounded and shaped by Carbon Lobby propaganda… much less grapple with the implications of that fact. 1/