Tag Archives: Coal

Judging books by their covers, or ‘act naturally’- Australia’s Coal Export Industry

Young folk today, eh?  They think if it isn’t on google’s first or second page, it’s not worth knowing. Fossils like me, fueled by the thrill of the chase, pace the library shelves.  And you stumble across the greatest stuff.

So, I didn’t know that the Federal Government, for a period between 1993 and 2001, published glossy booklets bigging up ‘Australia’s Coal Export Industry’. Presumably these were dished out at trade fairs, and gathered dust in Embassy book racks for years. There were various editions, and I’ve managed to get hold of all but the 4th (and I will Keep Looking).

I intend to do a deeper analysis of the contents soonish, but for now, as part of my ongoing fascination with how a picture tells a few stories, have a look at the five editions I’ve got access to.

It starts innocuously enough in 1993…

1993 aeci cover

By 1995 we’ve moved from mine to port.

1995 aeci cover

And things stay the same for the 1996 edition…

1996 aeci cover

Don’t have the 4th edition (yet), but issue 5, 1999 is thus, now with the tagline ‘Competitive Australia’ –
1999 aeci cover

And, drumroll please – the 6th edition – they’ve seriously gone for green!! (see also this post)
There’s forests, and a… gasp… woman. So, that’s, um, progress…
2001 aeci cover

How to defend your interests (shame about the lack of a habitable planet, but what can you do?)

Chap called Gavin Gilchrist wrote some corking articles back in the mid-90s, the documented the nuts and bolts of how the Howard Government took over the Keating/coal industry-inspired Australian climate retreat and turbo-charged it.

The piece I am quoting from below  [Gilchrist, G. (1996) “Climate Changes: Why We Are Seen As Rebels” Sydney Morning Herald 8th July] was published during the second lot of international climate negotiations in Geneva. (In “COP1” Berlin in 1995, chaired by Angela Merkel, everyone except Australia and Saudi Arabia had agreed that actual emissions cuts were needed.  The third meeting, in Kyoto in 1997 was the deadline, and Geneva a crucial staging post).

Australia was busy demanding special treatment for itself (given its coal exports and high domestic per capita emissions – that’s what happens when you also burn coal for ‘leccy.)

Gilchrist writes

Federal Cabinet’s decision on the greenhouse issue a month ago was a triumph of strategic long-term lobbying by the Business Council of Australia, which represents Australia’s biggest 100 firms, and about 20 other industry associations.

More than five years of intensive lobbying behind the scenes in Canberra paid off spectacularly.

He then details some of the tactics used (clever and strategic ones. These are not stupid people), and then gives an overview.  Imma quote a whole chunk, because it bears repeating;

A government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “The Australian position has changed from being a very wide one that recognised the science, the need to be putting new technologies into developing countries and giving them financial assistance, and that recognised the need for adaptation strategies but also included trade concerns. “Now, instead of the holistic approach, we’ve zoomed in on the bottom line and trade is the only driving consideration.”

Australia is the world’s biggest coal exporter, a major natural gas exporter, and a major exporter of aluminium smelted using vast amounts of electricity from coal-fired power stations. That makes Australia one of the world’s highest producers of greenhouse gases per capita.

Canberra insiders say the final position of the Howard Government on greenhouse shows that when lobbyists for vested interest groups succeed in winning over bureaucrats, they invariably win the policy debate.

“If a bureaucracy and a lobby group are as one mind, it’s almost impossible for governments to receive alternative advice,” said Mr Bob Gordon, managing director of Australian Business Links, a business consultancy which represents companies with renewable energy interests. “In which case, the interests of the public can be a major casualty.”

Stepping up 14 December 2014: innovation, coal, the AGGG

Gonna see if insta-commenting helps me retain factoids post-reading-on-the-stepper…

Finished off “Emerging challenges for science, technology and innovation policy research: a reflexive overview” (Research Policy 38,: 571-582. Brain stretching stuff – this, among others, was gold –

“For example, Weick (1995) recounts a story told by the Hungarian Nobel Laureate, Albert Szent-Gyorti, about a small Hungarian detachment that, after becoming lost in the snow in the Swiss Alps, managed to survive and to return to the main camp using and putting their faith (and lives), without realising it, in the wrong map (in this case, a map of the Pyrenees). The story suggests that when we are lost, any old map will do and good outcomes can come even from bad or wrong maps because they do at least allow us to begin to act, generating outcomes in a particular social context and making sense of those outcomes.”

Weick, 1995 isn’t in the references. Might be a typo for Weick, K. (1999) Theory construction as disciplined reflexivity: tradeoffs in the 90s Academy of Management Reviewe, 24, 797-806

Nope, it’s not, and after a quick google the whole story (!) thickens considerably. See here and here.

So I am clearly going to have to read: Andrew Gelman and Thomas Basbøll (2014) “When Do Stories Work? Evidence and Illustration in the Social Sciences” Sociological Methods and Research Vol 43 (5) p 547-570.

There is some great advice about academic writing on Basboll’s site.

Then there was “The UNFCCC and Beyond: Transnational Climate Change Governance” – Matthew Paterson (author of many many things, including “Global Warming and Global Politics” from 1996.  There are lots of other climate governance “experiments” at different scales and in different sectors. But is our children learning?

Then Tim Loh, journo for Bloomberg, doing a very interesting piece on coal magnate Robert Murray – “A Provocateur Sees Profits in Coal’s Long, Slow, Death.” Good stuff on how he’s spotted regulation coming, and knows how to profit from it.

Finally, an excellent paper called “Early science policy interaction in climate change: lessons from the Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases” [paywalled] by Shardul Agrawala, whose work I have blogged about before. The AGGG was a short-lived group of scientists that came out of the crucial Villach conference in October 1985. Agrawala interviewed the scientists in the de jure (official) group and some in the shadow/“de facto” group of scientists. The AGGG seems to have been crucial in getting the June 1988 Toronto conference going. Agrawala’s account of the science developments in the 70s and 80s is crystal clear, and his “lessons learned” is also exemplary.