Climate clippings 223

1. Climate as an existential threat

Last September I half-finished a post on this topic, with a paper by David Spratt and Ian Dunlop as the centre-piece. Their 28-page report on the state of climate science, action and politics entitled What lies beneath? The scientific understatement of climate risks is introduced as a post at Climate Code Red, but I suggest you go directly to the paper itself. Read any part of it, and I can promise you will be alarmed.

    Dr Barrie Pittock, a former leader of the Climate Impact Group in CSIRO, wrote in 2006 that: “until now many scientists may have consciously or unconsciously downplayed the more extreme possibilities at the high end of the uncertainty range, in an attempt to appear moderate and ‘responsible’ (that is, to avoid scaring people). However, true responsibility is to provide evidence of what must be avoided: to define, quantify, and warn against possible dangerous or unacceptable outcomes.”

Unfortunately little has changed since then and that statement itself downplayed what was going on. For “downplayed” substitute “ignored” and often it’s the mid-range rather than the high end of the uncertainty range, which, indeed is not all that uncertain. Spratt and Dunlop attempt to set the record straight.

Temperature rises that are now in prospect could reduce the global human population by 80% or 90%. But this conversation is taboo even for scientists, and the few who speak out are admonished as being overly alarmist.

Prof. Kevin Anderson considers that “a 4°C future [relative to pre-industrial levels] is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable” (Anderson 2011). He says: “If you have got a population of nine billion by 2050 and you hit 4°C, 5°C or 6°C, you might have half a billion people surviving” (Fyall 2009).

Asked at a 2011 conference in Melbourne about the difference between a 2°C world and a 4°C world, Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber replied in two words: “Human civilisation”. The World Bank reports: “There is no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible” (World Bank 2012). Amongst other impacts, a 4°C warming would trigger the loss of both polar ice caps, eventually resulting, at equilibrium, in a 70-metre rise in sea level.

The problem is that even in their science many scientists are understating the true state of affairs.

A more detailed examination of the state of affairs is still on my bucket list.

2. What goes up must come down

At Climate Code Red Spratt has another post What goes up must come down: It’s time for a carbon drawdown budget.

We have to come to terms with the fact that we have already put enough carbon into the atmosphere to overshoot the 1.5°C target, which in any case is not safe. So any new carbon put into the atmosphere should be matched by carbon taken out.

A new target of 0.5°C should be established if we care about the future of the planet. I notice he says:

    In past climates, carbon dioxide (CO2) levels of around 400 parts per million (ppm) have been associated with sea levels around 25 metres above the present. Prof. Kenneth G. Miller notes that “the natural state of the Earth with present CO2 levels is one with sea levels about 20 meters higher than at present”. (Emphasis added)

You don’t see that much in the literature, but I’ve been saying it since 2008. I didn’t make it up, I was just reporting science. For 2100 NOAA has a 2.5 metre extreme scenario, but we should be looking beyond 2100.

3. Senate sees climate as an existential threat, but…

Spratt has just taken a look at the Report of the Senate Inquiry into the implications of climate change for Australia’s national security.

He says the good work was done, not by our scientists, but by:

    Mark Crosweller, the Director General of Emergency Management Australia, Sherri Goodman the expert witness from the US, and the former senior Shell executive and emissions trading advisor to the Howard government, Ian Dunlop, who put the issue of existential climate security risks on the inquiry’s agenda.

The world’s response to the Paris accord will likely give us 3°C or more, everyone knows that. However, they don’t necessarily know what 3°C will do to the planet, nor that the 3°C doesn’t include longer term feedbacks. 3°C probably means 6°C with longer term feedbacks, which would mean the planet is cooked (see item 1 above).

Spratt says the committee understood that climate change was an existential threat, but didn’t react as though they were at risk of being wiped out. Hence there was a disconnect between the ‘findings’ and the ‘recommendations’.

So, on the right track, but a fail.

4. Turnbull ‘takes credit’ for French solar deal

Yep, that’s what he did and did not invite the Victorians to the party.

PM Malcolm Turnbull and Emmanuel Macron attended the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Neoen, France’s biggest renewable energy producer, and Anglo-Australia’s Zen Energy at Admiralty House beside Sydney Harbour on the Wednesday morning during Macron’s visit.

The Victorian government had rendered assistance to the project, whereas big Mal contribution has been to slag off at the states for engaging in renewable energy ideological fantasies.

Macron knew what was going on. The Victorians had only found out about the party because the French inquired of them who was coming. Read Macron’s lips at the Opera House speech on Tuesday night:

    “I am fully aware of the political and economic debate surrounding this issue in your country, and I respect this,” Mr Macron said.

    “But I think that actual leaders are those that can respect those existing interests, but at the same time decide to participate to something broader, to something more strategic.”

20 thoughts on “Climate clippings 223”

  1. We tend to forget that it is the wet bulb temperature that kills and that the critical wet bulb temperature is about 35 deg C.
    New Scientist (20 Jan 18, “Too Hot to Handle” points out that

    Research published in August 2017 showed parts of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh could occasionally exceed this by the end of this century. This area is home to 1.5 billion people.

    Then there is the effect on agricultural yields and, perhaps more important, the threat of war as powerful countries start to run out of food. In this context it is worth remembering that three nuclear powers depend on the Himalayan weather patterns.

  2. John, I think sea level rise will be important in the food bowls of river deltas in Asia.

    it is worth remembering that three nuclear powers depend on the Himalayan weather patterns.

    Pakistan, I believe, has 11 rivers, but only one of them rises within its borders. I understand the Chinese have already been diverting water that would end up in India if let run free.

  3. The Guardian has an article on the Senate Inquiry into the implications of climate change for Australia’s national security.

    Thanks, Geoff M, for the link on the Flannery thread.

    At The Conversation Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland takes a look at the report from a straight practical defence POV. He says the main implications are sea-level rise and natural disasters, and the fact that our region is particularly vulnerable.

    He says this inquiry was initiated by The Greens, so the Government is likely to take no notice of it. Indications are, he says, that present provisions are up to the task.

    He says that conversations with Defence personnel indicate that they take climate change seriously and are very aware of the toxic politics on the issue.

  4. In today’s paper edition of The Sydney Morning Herald is an article by Cole Latimer headlined Insurance industry shift from coal could mean higher power prices, online link here. The article includes:

    About 10 per cent of global insurance assets are being impacted by these changes, but risk management firm Aon believes that as the movement gains momentum, 20 per cent of all insurers could drop their coal assets by the end of the year.

    Earlier today, former PM and current back-bencher , Tony Abbott MP, had the usual fortnightly on-air chat with Radio 2GB broadcaster Ray Hadley, audio podcast link here. Following the recent announcement by AGL to reject Alinta’s offer for Liddell power station, Tony Abbott told Hadley:

    “Given that the federal government has effectively now got responsibility for energy security, the government should compulsorily acquire this power station for the price that Alinta were prepared to pay and then it should sell it to Alinta and they can operate it.”

    “We should stop talking about renewables and start talking about unreliables.”

    Where does a substantial quantity of NSW’s remaining coal reserves reside? Answer: Under “prime agricultural land”.
    Do the people of NSW wish to compromise NSW “prime agricultural lands” and “critical water resources” to gain a few extra decades of coal reserves at current rates of extraction? If the answer is no, then evidence I see indicates it is not economically viable to build new coal-fired power stations in NSW – there’s simply inadequate coal reserves remaining in NSW to last 4+ decades at current rates of extraction.

    We live in interesting times.

  5. What next??

    Mr Abbott advocates nationalisation of a power station.

    ??Mr Abbott then suggests “sending the troops in” to seize a coal mine and ship the coal”??

    Old-timers will recall coal and transport strikes around 1948, 1949. The Chifley Labor govt “sent in the troops” to break communist-led strikes in times of postwar austerity.

    Possibly the industrial turmoil was a factor in Bob Menzies’ subsequent federal election victory for the Liberal Party.

    The stand-out “unreliable” here is the ex-PM who after his loss, promised not to snipe and undermine his Party and Govt.

  6. Brian (Re: MAY 18, 2018 AT 11:28 PM):

    He says this inquiry was initiated by The Greens, so the Government is likely to take no notice of it.

    There were some ‘big guns’ called to appear at the Australian Senate inquiry’s public hearings:

    Sherri Goodman – Senior Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, and former US First Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security for 8 years.

    US Navy Rear Admiral David Titley (retired) – Professor and Director at the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, Penn. State University, and formerly as Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy and Director of the US Navy’s Task Force Climate Change.

    Honorary Professor Admiral Chris Barrie AC (retired) – currently at ANU, recently was part of a Defence briefing team that was presenting on climate change issues to a conference of our maritime surveillance advisers and a couple of Defence attache staff here in Canberra.

    I think it’s a bit difficult to dismiss these people so easily. And that’s not to say that the other participants should be easily dismissed either.

    He says that conversations with Defence personnel indicate that they take climate change seriously and are very aware of the toxic politics on the issue.

    That probably explains why Recommendation 4 is there in the inquiry’s Final Report:

    6.15 The committee recommends the Department of Defence consider releasing an unclassified version of the work undertaken by Defence to identify climate risks to its estate.

  7. The pressure should be on AGL to replace Liddell with something on the grid that could replace the capacity of the existing fossil power station with the renewable equivalent. May mean solar thermal with molten salt heat storage and standby molten salt heater? But I guess the coal eaters won’t be satisfied with anything that doesn’t emit at least as much per kWh as coal.

  8. Yes, John, I think it’s a shame AGL are going to have 750 MW of gas in their replacement.

    I heard the pathetic response from Abbott and there was similar from Barnaby Joyce.

    Vesey is meant to make money for AGL shareholders. I believe AGL is one of Australia’s oldest public companies. Alinta was offering $250 million. As I pointed out on the Liddell thread that’s just a little more than AGL is making in free cash flow from Liddell now each year and up to 2024, on average.

    Pathetic.

  9. Geoff M, yes, it was good to have some heavy hitters from the US, where Defence has taken climate change very seriously for a very long time. In the end one hopes that will help change attitudes here, but the current government is beyond redemption. It is very clear that science and information don’t contirbute much at all to their decision making.

  10. Last Thursday, Radio 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones gave Federal Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg a verbal assault. RenewEconomy‘s article headlined How Alan Jones made Josh Frydenberg look like a moderate, link here, provides some characterization & analysis of the encounter.

    And yesterday, RenewEconomy added the article headlined AGL rejects Alinta bid for Liddell, Coalition goes nuts, link here. Towards the end of this article it includes this:

    The Australia Institute, meanwhile, on Monday released a study that showed Liddell has failed four times in 2018 on days of peak demand because of high temperatures.

    And ends with:

    “Liddell cannot be relied on to deliver power when we need it most,” Ben Oquist, Executive Director of The Australia Institute, said. “Hot days are when we need power most and coal power plants preform badly in the heat.”

    But this seems to be an array of inconvenient facts for the COALition.

  11. The Australia Institute’s discussion paper P548 titled Timing is everything: Liddell Power Station’s record of breaking down when it is needed most, was apparently published yesterday, link here. The Summary begins with (bold text my emphasis):

    At 47 years old, Liddell power station is the oldest power station operating Australia. The older power plants are, the more inefficient, unreliable and dangerous they become.(1) That is why internationally, only 1% of power stations in operation are older than 50 years.(2)

    So far this year Liddell has broken down four times. Liddell has four large generating units of 500 MW each, although the “effective capacity” capacity has been reduced to 420 MW each “due to age and reliability issues”.(3) The size of these units means that breakdowns at Liddell have a relatively large impact compared to many other power plants.

    Liddell’s breakdowns are not only frequent, but badly timed.

    More inconvenient facts for the COALition.

  12. And in today’s The Sydney Morning Herald paper edition, is an article by Peter Hannam headlined Special exemption allows Liddell to pollute almost double other plants, online link here. The article begins with:

    The Liddell coal-fired power station was granted a special exemption allowing it to pump out toxic nitrous oxides at almost twice the rate allowed similarly aged plants, documents obtained under freedom of information show.

    Further down the article:

    AGL said it was planning to replace Liddell’s capacity after 2022 “with modern, cleaner more reliable electricity generation”.

    Until then, the local residents may need to put up with more asthma and allergies, and eye, nose, throat and lung irritation.

    It seems the COALition would have the local residents endure discomfort for a substantially longer period of time. Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce don’t live nearby, so it seems it’s alright for them to call for extending the life of Liddell beyond 2022.

  13. John Davidson (Re: MAY 22, 2018 AT 11:10 PM):

    Liddell is not surrounded by housing and has high chimneys .

    Liddell and Bayswater power stations are located in the local government area of Muswellbrook Shire Council. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census for Muswellbrook LGA says there are 16,086 people living in the Muswellbrook LGA. The town of Muswellbrook is approximately 16 kilometres north-west from Liddell.

    The larger settlement of Singleton is south-east of Liddell and is approximately 25 km distant. ABS stats for Singleton LGA for 2016 census is 22,987 people.

    Hard to say how much effect it has on neighbours.

    Here’s Environmental Justice Australia’s webpage The quiet pollution exemption granted to AGL’s Liddell plant, dated 21 May 2018, link here, on this issue.

  14. At a joint COALition party room meeting on Tuesday, pro-coal Liberal MP Craig Kelly is believed to have called on the government to amend competition laws to prevent companies that provide “essential services” from acting uncompetitively. See SMH article headlined AGL to face class action and fines under Coalition MP push, link here.

    Also at SMH is this article headlined Adani looks to Rothschild to sell slice of its coal port operations, link here. The article begins with:

    Indian mining heavyweight Adani has appointed investment bank Rothschild to sell a stake in its Abbot Point port operations in Queensland in a move sources said could help it raise funds for the controversial Carmichael coal mine.

  15. I know how to spell Rothschild.
    Now, please will someone remind me: how do you spell Ponzi???

  16. Thanks for the AGL class action link, Geoff M.

    It’s astonishing the lengths the Govt will go to to stitch up AGL.

    The generation market doesn’t seem excessively concentrated in NSW compared to other states. AGL has said that their replacement generation will be cheaper than prolonging Liddell. They need to get on with it ASAP.

    Sims at the ACCC has been banging on about competition in retail, but he hasn’t understood that privatised retail is a rip-off. It would be cheaper nationalised.

    Seems to me that when NSW is consistently, every time I look, importing significant electricity from interstate, they can’t expect low prices.

  17. In today’s SMH paper edition, and published online yesterday is an article by Cole Latimer headlined Hot air: only four clean energy options on track for Paris targets, link here. The article begins with:

    The International Energy Agency says only four out of 38 clean energy technologies are on track to help hit the Paris climate change emissions reduction targets.

    The IEA’s latest report has found only solar panels, LED lights, electric vehicles and data centre energy management technology are on track to help the world meet its energy and carbon dioxide emissions sustainability goals.

    Yesterday, I became aware of another Professor Blakers YouTube video 2017 CURF Annual Forum – Andrew Blakers keynote, published on Dec 18, 2017, link here. ANU Professor Andrew Blakers delivered the keynote speech ‘100% Renewable Energy Futures’ at the 2017 CURF annual forum at the University of Canberra. I highly recommend you see/hear it.

  18. Thanks for the links, Geoff M, especially the Blakers one. I might do a post, getting across the main gist of it, working in reverse order, so we start with the big picture.

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