Category Archives: Policy and Economics

Government policies and economic discussions that relate to climate and the environment.

The Prime Minister’s droughts

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 2 April 2014. More articles from the CANWin column.

Image: Peripitus via Wikimedia Commons

Image: Peripitus via Wikimedia Commons

As the Prime Minister says, a cycle of drought and flooding rain is normal for Australia. Thirty years ago scientists worked out that the source of this natural cycle is not on land, but in the Pacific Ocean.

In a four-stage cycle called the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), warmth and moisture move back and forth between Australia and the Americas.

Westerly winds skim off the warm surface layer of the sea, transport it westward and pile it up to the north of Australia. This warm surface layer evaporates, the source of our La Nina rains. Then eastward winds flow back across the Pacific towards central America, bringing rain to Peru and Ecuador but leaving Australasia in El Nino drought.

This cycle has been going on for centuries; it’s the normal drought regime. Well done Prime Minister!

FloodedPlaygroundSignsBut our times are not normal, and the sooner you learn the difference, the better it will be for all of us. Man-made greenhouse warming is disturbing the natural balance. If we don’t all take the present global warming trend seriously, man-made greenhouse warming will double the frequency of extreme droughts. Prime Minister, it’s time to listen to the experts.

The experts will tell you that the surface mixed layer in the eastern Pacific gains more heat from man-made fossil fuel emissions than the west, where evaporation has a net cooling effect. This means that extreme droughts (such as 1982-83) are likely to return every 10 years instead of every 20. That leaves the food sources of the nation with not enough time to recover from the last severe drought.

So Prime Minister, why are you so heavily subsidizing dirty coal-fired power stations when renewable alternatives are available? Why do you allow such industries to off-load the costs of their pollution to other industries and the populace at large? Where is the level playing field for electricity generation? Why do you expect people to bear the cost of profligate spending on poles and wires for outdated, grid-based, 19th century technology?”

How about taking care of your grand-children’s future rather than your own?

New Land Services Boards will matter

CANWin and Moss Vale Land Care member Lyndal Breen writes:

Hello all,

Please note the electoral roll for the upcoming election of board members on the Local Land Services Boards will close on 17th February. If you know any landholders who could be on this roll but who may have overlooked its significance, please mention it to them. As landholders who were on the previous Livestock Health and Pest Authority Roll will not be automatically transferred, it is important to remind them. They can get the form from the website below, but they have to submit the form at their local land services office. The closest one to our area is the former HNCMA office in Clarence House, Moss Vale (beside IGA)

Please see http://southeast.lls.nsw.gov.au/our-region/our-board/elections for full details.

I feel that people in CANWin and other environmentally focussed groups may not be appreciating the importance of these Boards. These are the people who will be making decisions about funding and support available for issues in areas such as natural resource management, biosecurity, emergency management and agricultural production advice.

It is important for anyone interested in areas such as Landcare, food miles/food security, organic farming, use of GMO crops, soil erosion, weeds, fire management, and/or rural issues in general, to take notice.

It is particularly concerning that the Boards’ memberships are limited to Landholders.

Regards, Lyndal

Electric Communities

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 9 October 2013. More articles from the CANWin column.

Petition to fund community energy

Click the image for information about more Australian community energy projects

We’re used to thinking of electricity as big and centralised. It’s generated by a few big corporations that trade with each other through the big power network. We buy it from businesses that are so big they use computerised people to answer their phones.

But does electricity have to be big business? Not any more. Renewables can put power into the hands of communities.

Community power, or community energy, are general names for various ways that groups of people are pooling their resources (such as space, money, and skills) into shared renewable energy projects.

Hepburn Wind, near Daylesford in Victoria, is a high-profile Australian example, but community power doesn’t have to mean wind power. The new Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct at Darling Harbour will include a rooftop community solar park. It will enable inner-city residents who are renters or who do not have the roof space to invest in the technology.

Community energy projects are under way in many Australian regions too. Close to home, Wagga Wagga City Council has agreed to provide their energy usage data and site access to establish whether there is a sound economic and environmental case for the Council to host a community-owned solar farm. Riverina Community Solar Farm aims to find up to five hosts for solar systems, and a group on the Central Coast is investigating solar and biogas options.

A clever way to help cash-strapped community groups go renewable is through CORENA, the Citizens Owned Renewable Energy Network. CORENA is a not-for-profit that uses donations from the public to fund practical renewable energy projects. Electricity sales and loan repayments from completed projects finance future projects, thus continuously recycling donated money. In their own words, CORENA “… is people power reaching far into the future”.

You can donate to small or large projects through the CORENA website at corenafund.org.au

Working out the financial and governance arrangements for community power takes significant effort. Most groups set themselves up as co-operatives, drawing on the century of experience developed by co-operatives in other fields. Information and help is also available from Embark Australia, a privately-funded not-for-profit that is “…working to shift the community energy sector into the mainstream, as a proven and financially viable model capable of attracting large-scale investment and growing to meet its full potential.”

For more information about community energy, see the websites of:
Embark
Climate Rescue of Wagga
Renew Economy

Climate Commission -> Volunteer Climate Council

Climate CommissionersVia Twitter and tonight’s Lateline, news that the members of the Climate Commission have decided to continue their work as volunteers in a new Climate Council.

The Climate Commission was set up by the former government, using funds from the carbon pricing scheme, “to provide all Australians with an independent and reliable source of information about the science of climate change, the international action being taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the economics of a carbon price.”

Shifted bell curve for temperaturesGreg Hunt, the new Minister for the Environment, abolished the commission on the second day of the Abbott government, in accordance with its promise to repeal the carbon price.

“Since its creation two years ago, the commission has produced 27 public reports on topics including the effect of climate change in Australia, global action being taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the potential of renewable energy. It has also held public forums across the country.” The Age 19 September

Thanks to the former Climate Commissioners, now Climate Councillors, Professor Tim Flannery (Chief Commissioner), Mr Roger Beale AO, Mr Gerry Hueston, Professor Lesley Hughes, Professor Veena Sahajwalla, and Professor Will Steffen.

Election 2013: 5 minutes to midnight

It’s 5 minutes to midnight on 6 September 2013, election eve. Earlier this week Dr Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said that the world is at 5 minutes to midnight for climate change. The election campaign has fussed and fluttered about an imaginary budget emergency, ignoring the real emergency of an unstable and unfamiliar world climate.

CANWin is non-partisan. We support policies that we believe will reduce carbon emissions and make Australia, especially our own region, better able to cope with climate shocks. In this election, the Coalition has no such policies.

AYCCElection2013The Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition have each compared the climate related policies of the main parties.

Many other organisations with expertise in climate or renewable energy have reached similar conclusions. For instance:

The Direct Action policy is not designed to meet any emission reduction at all, and Abbott confirmed he still thought the science was crap, despite the various leaks coming from the IPCC. Renewables do not even get a single positive mention in the Coalition’s newly released energy policy. Giles Parkinson in RenewEconomy, 6 September

Even with conservative assumptions, the Coalition’s policy as it is currently defined would see Australia’s emissions rise about 9 per cent by 2020.
To achieve their promised range of 2020 carbon cuts of 5 to 25 per cent below 2000 levels, the Coalition would need to spend at least an extra $4 billion to $15 billion by 2020.
John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute

A change to a coalition government will dilute the RET, a scheme that has been responsible for $18 billion investment, our current 10% renewable energy capacity and credited as being the single most successful policy for the Australian renewable energy industry. The RET has been so successful as it has supported a diverse range of renewables, particularly large-scale wind and small/ household rooftop solar PV. Ironically, it was introduced by John Howard in 2001 with bi-partisan support. Beyond Zero Emissions, 4 September

Fifteen years ago the Howard government started the policy work that eventually led to the carbon reduction programmes introduced by Labor. Surveys this year showed that a majority of Australians support the principles now in effect: a renewable energy target and a price on carbon emissions that is paid by emitters.

Tomorrow, think climate when you vote.

Cost analysis for frogs

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 11 September 2013. More articles from the CANWin column.

Clive amid the externalities“Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” Oscar Wilde
“What’s wrong with that?” Clive the CANWin frog

How do you decide if a proposed development is worthwhile?

You count up the good points (Benefits) and the bad points (Costs) to see which is greater. Easy enough for a business idea, where the essential benefit is profit. Trickier if the benefits will belong to the wider community, such as a railway, or an NBN, or safe water, or a stable climate.

What about the cost of building and developing a project that’s intended to provide benefits to the wider community?

Traditionally a project seems worthwhile if the costs of land, labour, and so on are less than value of the finished project and the money people will pay to use it.

But hold on. Are you sure you know all the costs?

Will the project affect fresh water supplies or agriculture? Does it put people’s health at risk? Will it damage local roads, public buildings, sports grounds or parks, your property values, your security?

Does the proposal really include all the costs?

If not, then the real cost is a lot more than the amount paid out in cash to do the job, and somebody has to pay the difference.
Economists and engineers call these unaccounted-for costs, or benefits, externalities. They’re hard to measure, but economists and engineers are working out ways to calculate their dollar and cents value. That’s fortunate, because ignoring these basic and genuine costs results in false comparisons of costs versus benefits.
Sometimes it’s the external benefits of a project that don’t get counted. Sometimes (as in election campaigns?) it seems that everyone is only counting the items that help their cause and ignoring the rest.

Do you think about these ‘external’, unaccounted-for costs when you look at a policy or a development proposal?

As voters and taxpayers we all need to think about total costs. Sooner or later, we’ll be paying them.

Review: Requiem for a Species

RequiemSpeciesCoverClive Hamilton has written a number of books on climate change and the consumerist society of Australia, including Scorcher, Growth Fetish and Affluenza. He is Professor of Public Ethics at the Australian National University and is the highly respected founder of the Australia Institute. Well-known as a writer, he has also authored many newspaper and magazine articles for general reading

Requiem for a Species is a study of why we ignore the urgent scientific information about the future warming of our planet, which examines those aspects of the human species that are in conflict over this question. Hamilton sees a battle within humanity between forces that should help us to protect the earth, such as our ability to reason and to connect with nature, and qualities that lead us to damage it, such as greed, materialism and alienation from nature. In Hamilton’s eyes the latter have triumphed, and now we will have to deal with our failure to seriously examine the evidence and take action to ensure that our own species survives.

The book is not an easy or pleasurable read. The first chapters examine the scientific views on what levels of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) may be acceptable. They show that even 2 degrees C of warming will pose risks to climatically sensitive Earth systems, quoting for example James Hansen’s belief that the safe level of CO2 is no more than 350 ppm (we have already reached 400). Hamilton does not believe that we can stabilise the climate at a specified level of GHG in the atmosphere, and seriously doubts that adaptation will be possible either. Nor does Hamilton have any faith in technical fixes such as Carbon Capture and Storage. The only solution he sees is that of drastically reducing emissions, from right now. Massive investment in energy efficiency, renewable technology and storage technology is needed.

Hamilton sees the need to despair as a ‘natural human response to the new reality’ but if we are to save humanity, we must emerge through despair, accept the situation and take action.

This book is available for loan at Wingecarribee Shire Library (Call No. 363.7387/Ham)

Other reviews of Requiem for a Species

Crikey review

Times Higher Education Supplement

Good Reads

Book Launch at ANU, 29 March 2010

Buggy whips and fossil fuels

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 24 July 2013, under the title “How to Support an Economy”. Author, Lyndal Breen. More articles from the CANWin column.

A hundred years ago buggy whips were essential to ordinary households, but buggy whip manufacturers were under threat. A new form of private transport was coming that didn’t need whips: the Motor Car. Buggy whip manufacturers hired Public Relations Firms to run huge advertising campaigns. The popular movement People for Whip People rallied at every race meeting. The National Buggy Whip Federation published massive White Papers showing that buggy whips were essential to a healthy economy.

Fossil Fuels Forever graffiti over old newspaper advertisement for buggy equipmentWell, no! A hundred years ago we didn’t know about Public Relations. Instead people just stopped buying buggy whips for routine use. Buggy whips became a tiny niche industry, and the economy did just fine.

Fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas – are the buggy whips of our times. No matter what their spin doctors and industry associations say, renewable energy is coming because ordinary people need it.

But what can consumers do now? We’re buying less electricity, but the electricity companies and politicians respond with Public Relations Campaigns and political spin. They seem to think they can stop progress.

As an energy conscious consumer, you can send even stronger messages. For example, turn your back on over-packaged goods. Why do so many foods marketed for babies and children come in so much packaging — the latest squeeze packs for baby foods, for instance. Disposable products don’t just clog up landfill (and drains): the energy that went into making and transporting them is wasted, by definition. Stores will give up on gimmicky gadgets if they get stuck in the back of a warehouse instead of our kitchen cupboards.

These are market signals and they are part of the economic system. They are also opportunities. When the analogue television signal ceased in our area, did manufacturers and our local television retailers react by trying to sell more analogue TVs? No! They jumped at the opportunity to sell set-top-boxes and LCD TVs.

Times change. New ideas bring new industries. People adapt. That’s how healthy economies work.