Category Archives: coal mining

Turnbull, #climate and the National Press Club #auspol

On February 1st Malcolm Turnbull will make a major speech on the Coalition’s climate and energy policy at the National Press Club.In his last public utterance on the topic, at the Sydney fish market in December last year, he spilt coffee , perhaps trying to douse the flames caused by Josh Frydenberg’s declaration that carbon pricing would be considered in this year’s policy review. Turnbull ruled that out, so who knows what he  will say on Wednesday. One well-informed and immensely experienced observer reports that

“Turnbull will announce new vehicle emissions standards and a new energy efficiency scheme. He and his office are looking at “technological solutions” – bright new ideas in solar thermal, or battery or carbon storage technology that might fill the policy void. But all those technologies need government policies to provide investors with incentives and certainty, and without actually confronting the climate doubters no one can imagine what that policy might be.”

(Another similarly-credentialled observer says he is the weakest Prime Minister since Billy McMahon )Who knows, perhaps Turnbull will dust off the ‘Greenhouse Challenge‘ voluntary programme for industry that Prime Minister Paul Keating started and  John Howard extended. We will know soon enough.

Meanwhile, the National Press Club has a long and interesting (if you’re a pathetic geek like me) history with climate change, and it tells us something about Australian journalistic responses to climate change.

Clubbing together
The Press Club began life as a press luncheon club, the result of some journalists having an (uncharacteristic for the profession) drinks in a Canberra watering hole. It seeks “to provide a genuine national forum for discussion of the issues of the day by the personalities who help shape them.” (A cynic might say that it is a way for journalists to have stories handed to them literally on a plate, with some nice plonk alongside.) The first speaker, on 17 May 1963, was Chief Justice and External Affairs Minister Sir Garfield Barwick.  Soon after Barwick helped establish the Australian Conservation Foundation.  The Press Club initially only held a few events a year, but it has grown steadily and there are now about 70 a year. Early environmental speakers included conservationist Harry Butler (October 3 1979) and in mid 1984 the German Greens Petra Kelly  who you can hear here 

The Club, naturally, reflects the concerns of the day, and politicians of the day fly kites and announce policies.  The climate issue seems to have reached the Club in October 1988,when the Liberal Senator Chris Puplick, the Opposition’s Environment spokesperson  launched the Opposition’s environmental policy and spoke on past Coalition.  It seems bizarre now, but Puplick then  went on to develop a policy on climate change that was more ambitious than Labor’s and took it to the 1990 Federal election.

Puplick and his Labor opponent Graham Richardson debated at the Press Club on March 7, 1990, just before the Federal election, and it was from  the club that Bob Hawke made his final (and successful) appeal to green-minded voters, calling on  disaffected voters not to vote green but, if they did so, to direct their second preferences to Labour. He warned. “When you wake up on 25 March there won’t be a Democrat government or a green independent government.”

In June 1989,  the inaugural Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory,  Rosemary Follett,  had appeared at the club and said that she was

“particularly concerned with environmental issues of national and international significance. The people of the ACT can be assured that the government intends to act locally in addressing issues such as the Greenhouse Effect and Protection of the Ozone Layer.”

Richardson had appeared shortly afterwards,after two cancellations for lack of journalist interest.. He talked tough (it’s how the man rolls) on the Federal government perhaps using its constitutional powers to override state decisions on environmental matters. He also confirmed a report by Michelle Grattan about a Cabinet meeting at which Treasurer Paul Keating had vetoed his proposal for a 20 per cent reduction in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2005 (the so-called ‘Toronto Target’ ). He told the assembled hacks

“… When I put this target to our Cabinet, I came under close questioning by the economic ministers. I couldn’t sustain my argument with sufficient science.

“I haven’t yet learnt how to lose gracefully so I was angry. I delved into the department’s records so that I could write to my Cabinet colleagues and demand a reconsideration. The cupboard, however was bare, and the letter was never written.”

[Dunn, R. 1989. Cabinet reduces greenhouse target. Australian Financial Review, 26 July.]

Sir Ninian Stephen, by then Australia’s first Environment Ambassador, spoke wittily in late 1990 on the topic of  “the environment: a passing storm or an issue for all seasons” (you can listen here –  He argued that it didn’t matter what he said, only if he blundered in the Q and A.

The following year the Canadian entrepreneur behind the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Maurice Strong, spoke. In November 1992, after Rio, Jeremy Leggett, a former geologist who had become  Greenpeace International’s Atmosphere and Energy Campaign leader spoke (his book The Carbon War is a terrific read, btw).

Worth remembering
Amid all the advocates of action (Ian Lowe, Peter Garrett, David Suzuki, Bob Brown, Gro Harlam Brundtland, Nick Stern), perhaps the one we should most remember is President Kinza Cloduma of Nauru.  In late 1997, when the Australian government’s diplomatic push for special treatment at the impending Kyoto Protocol meeting had silenced the South Pacific Forum’s attempt at a strong pro-action statement, Cloduma told the journalists

“I am not impressed when Mr. Howard openly scorns the critical nature of the situation in order to bow to the will of the fossil fuel industry.”

There have been peaks and troughs of concern since then, with scientists speaking  in September 2000 “Greenhouse Science Forum: How Real is Climate Change? What does Science Tell Us?”,  Ian Lowe spoke in 2005 on “ Is Nuclear Power Part of Australia’s Global Warming Solution?” (his answer was ‘nope’).

In the white-heat of the 2008-9 carbon pricing battles, Ross Garnaut seems to have had a camp-bed at the NPC, so often was he using it to launch various drafts of his climate reviews.  The Greens’ Christine Milne argued on 17 June 2009 that “The Climate nightmare is upon us.”  Bob Brown and  Ziggy Switowski debated nuclear versus renewables in April of the following year [thanks to the reader who alerted me to this!]

Less emphatically,  Penny Wong, Kevin Rudd, Greg Combet and Julia Gillard all used the NPC to launch various climate policy papers. In mid 2011, Gillard, under ferocious attack over her carbon proposal launched “The Government’s plan for a clean energy future”. She  was asked by Mark Riley about journalist famously suggesting that journalists ‘don’t write crap – it can’t be that hard.’

Since then the club has seen – among others –

Two way traffic
It hasn’t been one-way traffic. An early example of a sceptical perspective came in mid 1992 when Prof Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology at  Massachusetts Institute of Technology spoke. (He had been brought out by the CSIRO atmospheric science division, which was then headed by G.B Tucker. Tucker had been aware of the issue in the mid-70s, and written an early monograph – The CO2-climate connection : a global problem from an Australian perspective–  in 1981, but in retirement wrote pieces for the Institute for Public Affairs with titles like  ‘The Greenhouse Panic’. But I digress)

Three years later the Club heard from  Dr Patrick  Moore who was billed as a “ Canadian Environmentalist and one of the founders of Greenpeace”.The first term can be debated. The second cannot.

Climate change exploded as a public policy issue in Australia in late 2006.   It’s ironic to remember now, but when John Howard’s hand-picked emissions taskforce suggested that a low tax on carbon emissions — less than $5 per tonne –  might give Australia a start in preparing for an eventual global emissions trading system , the  Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitchell Hooke argued at the press club that while Australia should not embark on unilateral action, there was scope for “unilateral leadership”. He said

“I don’t want a blunt economic instrument of a carbon tax [but] I would see that kind of low order price as being part of a cap and trade framework.”

Hooke hardened his line, of course, as time went on.  At the peak of the 2011 carbon pricing battles, in June, the Australian Coal Association’s Ralph Hillman spoke on “The mining industry’s position on the carbon tax.”

The same month,  Lord Monckton  and the Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss squared off in a debate. Two weeks later  former President Vaclav Klaus President of the Czech Republic  spoke on “Climate Change: A new ideology”

Bjorn Lomborg followed up his October 2003  visit with another ten years later in December 2013.  Now that he won’t be having his ‘consensus centre’ , the trend suggests it might be another 6 years before he appears again.

Journalism and climate change
The Press Club’s willingness to host those who deny basic scientific facts is indicative of a broader difficulty that journalism has had with this issue.  Academic studies of the journalism profession’s dilemma over climate change. One influential paper argues that “balance is bias”, given the overwhelming scientific argument (and dare we say ‘consensus’) on anthropogenic climate change. The authors argue that

“the prestige press’s adherence to balance actually leads to biased coverage of both anthropogenic contributions to global warming and resultant action.”

John Oliver put it more visually with this stunt on ‘Last Week Tonight’

Australia’s experience has been extensively studied – see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. For starters.

All this is part of a battle for hearts and minds – what counts as ‘common sense’ and shapes or sustains the institutions  – “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior” – underpinning society.

Recently scientists have been admitting that studying climate change exacts an emotional toll. Journalists are following suit.

Malcolm Turnbull first addressed the club on March 18 1992, wearing his Australian Republican Movement hat.  He might need better head-wear this time round.  When Kevin Rudd launched the White Paper of his ill-fated and unloved Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme three protesters were dragged out The numbers of protesters there to greet him on February 1st will probably fall closer to that than the 1500 who turned up to say g’day to Pauline Hanson in 1997

But on the day, and indeed all through the year, Turnbull will – like other endangered Australian fauna – be feeling the heat.

Balance schmalance- when the powerful do it is in the ‘national interest’

So, I am writing an article; a proper academic article. Got me a journal in mind and everything. It’s on incumbent strategies versus challenge(r)s, and uses multiple streams approach and defensive institutional work. Gonna have the sucker done (first draft) by the close of play on the 27th December if it kills me.

Reading some fascinating stuff, but also writing as I go along – it’s the only way, after all.

Anyway, I stumbled on a very useful article from the defunct Business Review Weekly.

Hooper, N. and Way, N. 1995. Canberra’s Green Berets. BRW, 20 February, p.36.

They (approvingly) quote the late Peter Walsh (climate denialist and “failed” (his words) Finance Minister complaining that

“The Environment Department should no longer be regarded as a component of the Commonwealth bureaucracy, but as a fully taxpayer-funded extension of the partially taxpayer-funded Australian Conservation Foundation propaganda machine.”

All because some of the bureaucrats thought that cutting down and digging up everything in sight and in site was short-termist.

Never mind that the Treasury, Energy Department, Resources, DPIE etc had been busy scuppering anything environmental for, well, decades.

What happened next? The Greenhouse Mafia ran the show for another 12 years. Then the fight broke out into the open, and the opponents of action won. And now we are totally stuffed. Oh well, so it goes.

Podcast on #Australia #climate policy #auspol

The very cool people at Beyond Zero Emissions, on 3CR (community radio in Melbourne)  interviewed in November.  Here’s a link to their page about it. (it’s cut and paste below)

BZE radio talks to Marc Hudson:

Marc is studying the strategic responses of the Australian coal industry to the challenge of climate change. He is in the final year of a PhD at the Sustainable Consumption Institute: Manchester University. Marc is a regular contributor to The Conversation.

BZE Technology Radio Show: 11 Nov 2016: Podcast:

A historical perspective of contradictory statements from politicians and bureaucrats.

Marc talked about:

  • Coal usage in Australia from soon after White settlement, and the rapidly expanding export of coal to Japan from the late 1950s onwards, which was important for Japan as it rebuilt after World War Two.  Japan was the single most important market until the late 1990s, and is still very important.
  • China becoming a market for Australian coal from 2008 – but these exports have been decreasing as China produces most of its own coal, and is recognising coal as a health risk, and a political one, due to air quality in Chinese cities.
  • The chopping and changing of Australian climate policy, with dizzying peaks and troughs, alongside the basic bipartisan support for increasing coal exports
  • Prime Minister Julia Gillard and our short lived carbon pricing,
  • Malcolm Turnbull’s overt support for renewables until he became prime minister,
  • The election of climate denier Malcolm Roberts of One Nation to the Senate
  • The appointment of climate denier Craig Kelly as Chair of the Federal Environment Energy Committee.
  • The Australian recent ratification of the Paris agreements
    The current Morocco conference
  • The election of Trump in the US
  • Australian climate change activism.

Further reading

Out of step: marching for climate justice versus taking action
(The Conversation: Marc Hudson: 27 Nov 2015)

The sound of silence: why has the environment vanished from election politics?
(The Conversation: Marc Hudson: 23 June 2016)

Beyond Zero Emissions interviewers: Kay Wennagel, Michael Staindl, Natalie Bucknell

Broadcast from Radio 3CR in Melbourne, Australia

Based on a write up by Bev McIntyre

Solar Citizens launch at Adelaide Festival of Ideas #AdlFoI

[Fourth of a series of blog posts about sessions at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on Saturday 22nd October]

Next up was the launch of Solar Citizens. It covered the ‘solar rooftop revolution’ (1.5million Australian houses with solar panels, from a basically standing start 8 years ago), the start of solar citizens and its plans for a ‘fair and orderly transition.’

This was done via an engaging talk that took in President Carter’s 1979 installation of solar panels on the roof of the Whitehouse, Reagan’s 1986 removal, and Obama’s 2014 re-installation (by which time the price had dropped by a factor of 40). In the last few years the rooftop solar ‘revolution’ has at a conservative estimate, 19000 jobs, reduced energy bills and 24 million tonnes of carbon saved. An interesting comparison was made with the millennium drought, which also brought a sense of personal connection/responsibility for consumption patterns.

Solar Citizens’ origins were linked to the ‘direct attacks’ on renewables emanating from the big ‘gentailers’ (Origin, AGL and Energy Australia) and the owners of the transmission lines (the ticket clippers).

In May 2015 they’d proposed a solar surchage of $100 per year on people with panels in South Australia, simply to raise revenue.  Thus do incumbents defend themselves…. The regulator (AER) said ‘nope’, it went to court and the courts said ‘nope’, while local groups rallied, petitioned and generally raised cain (effectively).

Solar Citizens are also trying to get ‘big solar’ on the agenda.  They’ve combined with Get Up! To produce a ‘Homegrown Power Plan’ .

Here’s their video-

It seeks to remove roadblocks , ‘reboot the system’ [e.g. end the situation where people only get a derisory amount for energy they sell back from to power companies, that then flog it on at ‘normal’ prices to other customers) and repower the country” (concentrated solar thermal etc).

These sorts of normative entrepreneurship efforts are crucial to any transition, be it energy, food or whatever.  They often get written out of the official histories (we can’t have citizens making  a difference, after all, they might get wrong ideas about democracy and their own power!], but boy do they matter…

There’s a Solar Citizens event on October 31 in Adelaide. Sadly there was no time for questions – I’d have asked about their relationship (competition?) with BZE…

But which BIT of big business gets its way in which circumstances, eh?

The State is merely the committee for managing the affairs of the bourgeoisie, innit?  The evil moustache-twirling CEOs get together and tell their political meat-puppet underlings what to do.  Simples.

Well, sometimes, but every so often maybe it is more complicated.  I’m collecting examples of these every-so-often moments for my PhD thesis.  I have quite a nice collection, especially from the years 1996-2007, when little Johnnie Howard was a staunch and effective opponent of climate action.

Here’s a new example, from a Marian Wilkinson 2007 article..

But [Hugh] Morgan’s real success was not in the propaganda war but in the boardroom. In 2000 the Business Council of Australia was struggling to come to grips with the challenge of climate change. [Paul] Anderson, then chief executive of BHP and a key member of the council, called a meeting of the leading business players to discuss their response.

“I held a party and nobody came,” he says. “They sent some low-level people that almost read from things that had been given to them by their lawyers. Things like, ‘Our company does not acknowledge that carbon dioxide is an issue and, if it is, we’re not the cause of it and we wouldn’t admit to it anyway.’”

While Anderson was no fan of the Kyoto agreement, he was convinced climate change was real and BHP should get out in front on the issue. He believed the solution was a carbon tax that would put a cost on greenhouse gas pollution to force down emissions.

Wilkinson, M. 2007. Delayed reaction. Sydney Morning Herald, 24 March.  Reprinted in Jones, T. (ed). 2008.The Best Australian Political Writing 2008.  Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. Pp.155-163.

The upside of coal

See below for a truly extraordinary coal advert from 1975, where, looking for fresh workers, the UK National Coal Board basically says “this job is a fanny magnet.”

Meanwhile, I just finished Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags, which some say is his best.  Published in 1942, it is about the phoney war – it starts in September 1939 and finishes, mostly, with the British expedition to Norway in April 1940.  It’s bleak, funny, scathing etc.  Waugh definitely on top form.  This bit caught my eye, and may turn up either in my thesis or something else about the ‘value’ of fossil fuels.’

The Cafe Royal, perhaps because of its distant associations with Oscar and Aubrey, was one of the places where Ambrose preened himself, spread his feathers and felt free to take wing. He had left his persecution mania downstairs with his hat and umbrella. He defied the universe.

‘The decline of England, my dear Geoffrey,’ he said, ‘dates from the day we abandoned coal fuel. No, I’m not talking about distressed areas, but about distressed souls, my dear. We used to live in a fog, the splendid, luminous, tawny fogs of our early childhood. The golden aura of the Golden Age. Think of it, Geoffrey, there are children now coming to manhood who never saw a London fog. We designed a city which was meant to be seen in a fog. We had a foggy habit of life and a rich, obscure, choking literature. The great catch in the throat of English lyric poetry is just fog, my dear, on the vocal chords. And out of the fog we could rule the world; we were a Voice, like the Voice of Sinai from a cloud. Then, my dear Geoffrey,’ said Ambrose, wagging an accusing finger and fixing Mr Bentley with a black accusing eye, as though the poor publisher were personally responsible for the whole thing, ‘then, some busybody invents electricity or oil fuel or whatever it is they use nowadays. The fog lifts, the world sees us as we are, and worse still we see ourselves as we are. It was a carnival ball, my dear, which when the guests unmasked at midnight, was found to be composed entirely of imposters. Such a rumpus, my dear.’

Evelyn Waugh, Put Out More Flags (Spring, Ch 4)

Now, that extraordinary advert. Brace yourselves.

My “Three Minute Thesis” effort on #climate

Here’s my performance in the University of Manchester final of “Three Minute Thesis.” (Thank you very much to the organisers – and the training we received was fab).

I did okay but on reflection,  I tried to do too much – a history of climate science and policy, an explanation of issue lifecycle models, AND the Australian Coal industry’s responses.  I had one second left; without the pauses, I’d have been able to get in the concluding “climate change is about to wipe the stupid grin off everyone’s face” line better.  Still would not have won – the winner did a brilliant job, and thoroughly deserved her win.

 

NB In three minutes you have to make some blunt claims.  I’d be uncomfortable saying the Australian Coal Industry as a whole funded climate denialists in an academic paper, for example, though individuals and some actors within it certainly have.  Three minutes is not long…