Barnaby Joyce commented in writing about climate policy after he failed to win Nationals leadership. The cause of the challenge probably had something to do with the current leader recognising that more should be done about reducing global emissions. His comments demonstrate how people can avoid climate change through technological fantasy. Mr. Joyce wrote:

If you want a macro climate policy to show the world our leadership on reducing carbon emissions then we must bring in nuclear power

Will he suggest a nuclear reactor for New England? He could even put it on his property, given that he is facing extended droughts, which don’t have anything to do with climate change of course.

But probably not and there is no water for cooling anyway. I sometimes get a bit tired of Right wing politicians boosting nuclear power solely as a tool to hit the ‘irrational’ Left with. They never actually agitate for Nuclear power in their local areas, or push for it in Parliament, even when they have the numbers to get it passed easily, or paid for – assuming anyone wanted to build it. It’s just a piece of rhetoric. Nuclear power is expensive and requires taxpayer subsidies, such as fixed high energy prices, to be economic, as with Hinkley Point in the UK.

The Vice-Chair of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group states:

The WNISR2019 paints a picture of an international nuclear industry with substantial challenges. Remarkably, over the past two years, the largest historic nuclear builder Westinghouse and its French counterpart AREVA went bankrupt. Trend indicators in the report suggest that the nuclear industry may have reached its historic maxima: nuclear power generation peaked in 2006, the number of reactors in operation in 2002, the share of nuclear power in the electricity mix in 1996, the number of reactors under construction in 1979, construction starts in 1976. As of mid-2019, there is one unit less in operation than in 1989….

In 2018, ten nuclear countries generated more power with renewable than with fission energy. In spite of its ambitious nuclear program, China produced more power from wind alone than from nuclear plants. In India, in the fiscal year to March 2019, not only wind, but for the first time solar out-generated nuclear, and new solar is now competitive with existing coal plants in the market. In the European Union, renewables accounted for 95 percent of all new electricity generating capacity added in the past year

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019

While nuclear appears generally safe, the possibility of catastrophic accident exists. Although people argue over exactly how severe Chernobyl [1], [2] and Fukushima were, their problems continue.

At the moment, it is only in fantasy that nuclear is the fuel of the future. If you want nuclear then commit to building it, and be prepared to fight for it, but don’t ignore the problems, or its apparent decline.

Mr. Joyce also argues that we need:

…development of the most efficient coal power technology that uses the least units of coal for the greatest output of power. Wanting to develop the most efficient coal fired power technology in the world is not disavowing the realities of climate change it is actually something that could be provided to substantially curtail emissions.

Emissions would be better curtailed by not emitting them, or by committing to not emitting them, rather than by cutting them by small fractions, and committing to emitting for longer than we would do otherwise.

The figures for improved coal “high efficiency, low emissions (HELE) technologies such as supercritical coal, ultra-supercritical coal or integrated gasification combined cycle” are not that impressive, according to Alan Finkel’s Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market, from 2017. It compares the emissions for (page 203):

  • Subcritical brown coal which emits 1,140 kg CO2-e/ MWh
  • Subcritical black coal which emits 940 kg CO2-e/ MWh,
  • Supercritical black coal (HELE) which emits 860 kg CO2-e/ MWh,
  • Ultra-supercritical brown coal which emits 845 kg CO2-e/ MWh
  • Ultra-supercritical black coal (HELE) which emits 700 kg CO2-e/ MWh

The best of these, is not a huge improvement; it is of the order of 75% of normal at the best.

However, despite the fact that the new coal is still heavily polluting, the main problem here, as with nuclear energy, is that nobody in Australia seems to be interested in developing the “most efficient coal fired power technology in the world”. We hurled money at the coal industry to develop useful carbon capture and storage and they did close to nothing. Well, as the Coalition said at the time, they spent the money on a few dinners, but that’s about all.

Sadly unless evidence is provided otherwise we have to assume that clean efficient coal is not going to happen. It is also unlikely to happen because coal energy is not competitive anyway. No one will build coal fired energy in Australia without government subsidies. And that is for bog-standard coal fired energy, which can be built easily. If the builders are going to develop new efficient forms of coal based energy that will take money, research and time. It will, in other words, be likely to cost more, and be even less competitive.

Then we have the problem of coal taking away water supplies in a period which is likely to feature longer and harsher droughts. Adani for example, has been promised unlimited ground water. I’m not sure why our governments are encouraging this, but they are. If Renewables polluted, and took, this much water, it is extremely likely that Mr. Joyce would notice.

Even if we were to talk about gas, as with the current efforts to force more gas drilling, we still have emissions, we still have leaks, and we still risk water contamination.

We have to recognise that the public acceptance of wind towers on the hill in front of their veranda is gone, and the public dissonance on that issue is as strong as any other environmental subject. We have to understand that there is no sure thing in a political debate.  If wind towers are a moral good and environmentally inoffensive why can’t we have them just off the beach at Bondi so we can feel good about ourselves while going for a surf? It would cause a riot.

This again is a rhetorical fantasy, aimed at separating country people from city people. Choice is rarely offered in development. No one has offered us wind turbines on Bondi Beach. I’ve no idea whether there would be enough wind there, or whether they would be buildable there, but why not? Why not give the Inner West a choice between Wind turbines and the Westconnex tollroad? We don’t get the choice; we have to have a toll way which makes walking to some places difficult, that kills people with pollution and unfiltered exhaust stacks. We have to have people’s homes shattered by vibration. We have to have people thrown out of their houses, without enough compensation to buy back into the area. We have to have cars rat-running our streets. We have to have constant infrasound. We have to pay extra to travel, and the fees will constantly rise faster than wages. If we are talking about appearance, so far Westconnex is a lot less attractive than a group of Wind turbines, and has involved massive tree-felling. It would be nice to have the choice. Cities may be privileged but residents rarely get a choice between developments. And he must know that.

With more imagination, we could think about encouraging the installation of ‘vertical’ or ‘helix’ wind turbines on the rooves of office buildings. These don’t take up much space, don’t need sunlight and add to the free electricity of the building. Sure they don’t make as much power as standard turbines, but they fit in and could help diminish emissions. We also do have, and could have more, solar farms on rooftops for the same purpose.

If we had the right legislation, then people with an energy farm on their rooftops could sell directly to other people. At the moment, this seems more or less forbidden (in NSW at any rate), and it is obstructive to the development of renewables, and obstructive to development of a market for energy. Even local councils can’t use the roof of one building to provide power for another of their buildings, even if its across the road. They have to sell their power to the grid operator, and then buy it back from the grid operator at the standard price, not the cheaper price of their own generation. For some reason, this does not appear to be noticed by governments, and certainly is not up for debate.

He states that “We have to understand that there is no sure thing in a political debate,” yet he apparently knows some things so well that he can be certain that wind turbines at Bondi would cause a riot. Who by? Why would the government, or his party, take any more notice of them than they take of farmers protesting against coal mines and coal seam gas? The statements are pure rhetoric with no actual references to reality.

Do you want a 3000 hectare solar farm next door to you? Lots of glass and aluminium neatly in rows pointing at the sun. I am not sure others will want to buy that view off you when you go to sell your house!

Would Mr Joyce like to live next to a coal fired power station, or a coal mine? I don’t know. Perhaps he would, as he likes them so much, and there is no accounting for taste. It would clearly be hypocritical for him not to welcome them to his neighbourhood.

Again, why is the issue of pollution from coal, highways and massive building developments, just discounted as a problem in these fantasies? Will people who now have highways running past their front doors not be bothered by that, or not loose property value, because of that. At least solar panels are quiet, and don’t poison you. His statements are ingenuous at best.

The weather has determined the political climate and everyone is manipulating the recent calamitous events to push their own particular barrow.

It would certainly appear he is. Anything to avoid the issue of why the Government ignored the warnings about the likelihood of intense fires, and cut back funding for fire fighters etc (I admit that was not Joyce’s doing, but its his Coalition that refused to listen and cut the funds). There is also the issue of why, after years of the Coalition running away from climate change, we ordinary people have to adapt to the consequences, so they can continue to sell fossil fuels and make it worse.

Whether there is unanimity of people’s political views on the fire ground or feeding stock in drought as to what we can do to change the weather is as unlikely as to unanimity to their favourite song.

That is true of economic policy as well, but he does not seem to have much hesitation in pushing the neoliberal line, even though many of us think the song is total crap. Sometimes politicians simply have to do the right thing for the future, and in this case, however frightening, that means taking on the fossil fuel industry and the mining industry.

When politicians do stand behind a global climate policy the only certainty is that it will be the policy that has the least direct effect on them. Wind farms are for your backyard not mine, zero emission nuclear is for France, only support banning coal mines if the coal mines aren’t in your electorate, and try not to get caught on a sticky question of what replaces our nation’s largest export. There is a desire for intermittent power generation such as solar but an inability to afford the pump hydro to make it dispatchable. Simple answers are generally wrong.

We will wait for him to agitate for Nuclear power for New England. We will wait for him to challenge the mining industry and support farmers faced with dust and water problems because of that industry. We will wait for his party to suggest spending money on pumped hydro or other cheaper storage systems, rather than money (or blackmail) for coal and gas.

The simple answer, if you want to ignore climate change and its consequences, is more coal and more coal exports. But “Simple answers are generally wrong.” Mr. Joyce’s answers depend on fantasies that mining and burning fossil fuels has no cost, and that it is easy for Australians to adapt to their consequences of those costs. Consequently, he does not offer any solution for our problems at all. None, except blaming other people. He just wants to ignore the problem and keep on as he has always done.

He apparently does not realise that the trajectory we are on, is extremely likely to mean more drought, so we cannot afford to pollute water by mining, or lose water through mining, or through processing the products of mining. The water used in mines, should be charged for, at least at the rates farmers pay, and should be cleaned up after use.

The current trajectory of water depletion is likely to mean that many country towns will collapse through lack of water, through dying farms and through prolonged heat that humans cannot bear easily. Renewables might help to give the towns some way of existing. That requires some forethought, about extending the grid and so on, but these are things that can be done easily, as opposed to somehow make coal burning happen with much lower emissions, or nuclear power appear without political will.

So 2020 has started with quite some colour politically and tragedy nationally. The art form of politics will be the cogent response that the parliament can show the Australian people in two years time.

We have not seen a vaguely cogent response from Parliament as yet, and it is not sounding like we will get one, other than a cogent cover up of rorting, and false documents, and a series of fantasies about technologies with no harm.

See also what he did at Christmas….