Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Richard Denniss, Chief Economist of The Australia Institute, has written a rather patronising “back to basics” attack on coal, one of Australia’s major export commodities. The only problem is, he missed some of the basics.
According to Denniss;
You can’t tackle climate change while you are increasing the amount of coal that is being burned. Read that sentence again if you need to, it’s really quite important.
After 20 years of debate about climate change, it seems ridiculous that such a statement of the bleeding obvious needs saying, but – given the statements of Mr Turnbull and Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg – it seems we need to go back to basics.
Step 1 – the more coal that gets burned, the more CO₂ enters our atmosphere and the more global warming we get. The atmosphere doesn’t care how or where the coal is burnt, and it really doesn’t care whether we tell ourselves that we could have burned even more coal if we wanted to.
Step 2 – inventing more “energy efficient” coal-fired power stations could only reduce greenhouse gas emissions if you bulldozed the old power stations and replaced them with the new ones. But, and this is important, when you build hundreds of new coal-fired power stations and you don’t bulldoze the old ones then no matter how “efficient” the new ones are, the extra coal that gets burned causes extra climate change.
Alarmingly, neither Mr Turnbull nor Mr Frydenberg seem to understand this. Maybe the following example would help them. Just as burning too much coal causes climate change, drinking too much alcohol causes drunkenness. And just as the only way to turn around climate change is to stop burning coal, the only way to sober up is to stop drinking alcohol. Are you with me?
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/back-to-basics-on-coals-role-in-climate-change-20151120-gl3q8i.html
There is no dispute that burning coal will contribute to global warming. The question is, how much, and why should we care?
Richard mentions there has been “20 years of debate”. Leaving aside whether that rather arbitrary figure is correct, for 18 of those years, a period during which 1/3 of the rise in CO2 since pre-industrial times occurred, there has not been any global warming.
Arguably there has not been a statistically robust trend over the entire length of the world’s temperature records, other than a transitory blip caused by climate’s long random walk.
In Richard’s Wikipedia entry, he is described as “a constant thorn in the side of politicians on both sides due to his habit of skewering dodgy economic justifications for policy”. It seems a shame Richard doesn’t appear to want to apply this alleged razor sharp insight to the issue of climate change. A “dodgy justification for policy” is a fair summary of the current state of the world’s climate models.