Coal – the new tobacco?

In the last few years Australiaâs most lucrative export, coal, was dug up, and shovelled offshore,at  a rate of  232 Million Metric Tonnes per year.   Slightly more than half of that is used in steel making (metallurgical coal), and the remainder for burning as a fuel, mainly in power stations.  Either way most of the stuff is oxidised which means it largely ends up as carbon dioxide. This equates to 858 Million Metric Tonnes of carbon dioxide produced.  (1 Tonne of black coal burnt gives 3.7 tonnes of CO2)

Now according the Australian Governmentâs Greenhouse Office,
Australiaâs total 2004 net emissions were 564.7 Metric Tonnes of carbon dioxide.  Compare that to the 858 Million tonnes of CO2 we export through coal, and it is clear that Australiaâs greatest sector for emissions is not Stationary energy.  It is our export sector.

In fact, if we add our domestic emissions, to the emissions we export through coal
Australiaâs  moves up, from the worldâs 14th biggest emitter (or 10th biggest emitter according to other scales) to the world 4th biggest emitter.

It makes Malcolm Turnbullâs recent suggestion that weâre a small player in the whole climate change problem look hollow.

We cannot by our own mitigating actions stop climate change, because we are too small.

Australian coal is a huge contributor to the problem of  climate change,  and now Tim Flanneryâs call for an end to coal exports puts the matter right on the front page.

Itâs a suggestion that will not be supported by either of the two parties, and the ALP is vulnerable because one of the possible alternatives,  Nuclear Power, is anathema.

Both the Government, and the ALP are however banking on so called âclean coal❠technologies such as goal gasification and carbon sequestration. A complex set of process that may well reduce the overall efficiency of the energy cycle for coal from its already low level, and poses the interesting question as to how to bury a cubic kilometre of liquid Co2 under the ground every day of the year, for as long as we keep on burning coal. 

Itâs no wonder the Coal unions are worried, and itâs no wonder theyâre attacking the likes of BHP Billiton, who despite a $8 Billion half year profit announcement, only invest $10 Million annually in ways to reduce carbon emissions.  

The Coal boys know.  The chances of an effective technological solution to Coalâs emission problem are pretty slim.   Theyâre not going to throw money down that shute,  when instead they can spend the money on lobbying and positioning, and can keep the goose laying the golden egg for some time yet.  Sound familiar?  The tobacco industry comes to mind.

The real shame for Australia is that these actions come at the expense of our own long term viability.    We just arenât looking for solutions hard enough,  not investing enough in our future. 

Instead, what is the government offering as our road to prosperity?   An Energy Freeway to the Asia Pacific.    Thatâs right.  More coal.

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Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
14 years ago

Mmm, coal. Coal is goo–oo-od.

Coal makes energy cheaply which makes everyone better off so we can afford to a) whinge about coal now and b) fix it later.

I thought you’d appreciate that contribution!

Mr Z
Mr Z
14 years ago

Yeah, all well and good but I can’t get around the fact that exports do not equal emissions. Just because we sell someone a lump of black rock doesn’t mean we are responsible for what they do with it.

Or are we one of the world’s biggest weapons manufacturer because some countries make guns and ammo from our iron ore?

No wait … let’s blame England for our export ’emissions’ because, prior to white settlement there was no coal industry. Yeah, it’s all their fault!

wbb
wbb
14 years ago

Great post, Rex. We share the material benefits of the coal we export and therefore we share the emissions. But there’s no need to argue the toss anyway, Mr Z, because whoever you believe is responsible for the pollution- there is only one planetary climate. And that’s the one that we share with China.

So whether the coal is burned here or over there, the effect upon us is exactly the same. Snooze on.

The Devil Drink
The Devil Drink
14 years ago

That’s right, Mr Z. As I’ve always argued about bullshit ‘responsible’ service of alcohol laws.

Mr Z
Mr Z
14 years ago

wbb – if it’s a planetary problem then shouldn’t we share the 858 million tonnes between all the countries in the world?

I know I should have my ‘Bash-Australia-and-the-Government’ filters on whenever Rex posts, but the lack of logic of the first part detracts from the good points of the second part.

I mean, if we add Australia’s coal exports to our CO2 emissions that would mean we deduct the net CO2 emissions from tourists because they come from somewhere else.

The Devil Drink – it’s all the Sumerians fault for inventing alcohol :-p

Ken Miles
14 years ago

A complex set of process that may well reduce the overall efficiency of the energy cycle for coal from its already low level, and poses the interesting question as to how to bury a cubic kilometre of liquid Co2 under the ground every day of the year, for as long as we keep on burning coal.

This is very badly wrong.

The calculation of the volume required is off by orders of magnitude.

And coal isn’t that inefficient when compared against alternatives.

JC
JC
14 years ago

“Australia

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
14 years ago

Flannery cautiously embraces the nuclear option for countries like China and India, though arguing that Australia has no need to go down that path. Even if you disagree with him, you can’t sensibly argue that he is either callous or stupid. Whether one can say the same about people who stubbornly refuse to read and digest the abundant evidence about the scale and seriousness of human-induced global warming is another question.

I haven’t read enough about coal geosequestration to know whether it’s likely to be a feasible option. Even if Ken Miles is right and the Flannery piece that Rex links drastically overstates the volume of liquid CO2 that would need to be sequestered underground, Flannery details a range of other headaches that look very much as if they may make the whole process prohibitively expensive compared with nuclear power. Although it might not have been Flannery’s intention (or Rex’s), reading this material tends to reinforce my tentative view that John Howard is correct to be pursuing nuclear power as a critically important baseload power option for Australia (and China, India etc).

Where Howard’s approach falls down (leading to entirely legitimate questions about his sincerity and the genuineness of his professed conversion to the ranks of greenhouse worriers) is in his continuing pussyfooting around the central issue of a carbon tax and/or tradeable emissions permits, and his refusal to set an increased target for renewable energy technologies (e.g. 5%) that would keep solar and wind power manufacturing and research in Australia. Neither can provide baseload power, but they can certainly make a measurable contribution to our reducing our overall greenhouse emissions.

By contrast, Labor’s approach is fairly strong in both these areas (though cynically keeping silent on any specific details of a carbon trading regime), but is completely misguided in refusing to countenance even the possibility of developing a domestic nuclear power industry, let alone seeing it as the only feasible baseline option on the table if we conclude that coal geosequestration is likely to be impractical or prohibitively expensive. Anyone who fails at least to seriously examine the possibility of an urgent need to embrace the nuclear option AND tradeable emissions permits AND boosting reliance on renewable energy sources AND extensive energy conservation measures as well, simply isn’t taking global warming seriously enough as the pressing problem it clearly is on the available scientific evidence. Sadly, neither of our two main political parties can be regarded as taking global warming seriously on these criteria.

wbb
wbb
14 years ago

wbb – if it

JC
JC
14 years ago

Ken

I appreciate your points. However Flannery does promote a view of AGW, which is way to the far tail of the bell curve that even the IPCC is suggesting. The piece in the SMH is pure alarmism if matched against the recent IPCC summary. All said and done the IPCC has painted nothing near what Flannery

JC
JC
14 years ago

One other thing….. about carbon trade credits:

Europe’s attempt at emission trading has turned into a wank. The rate per ton was once US$30 odd and now you cannot find a bid. The reason is that the French started to cheat and then the Germsn cried poor requesting a higher ceiling and then the whole thing fell to the floor.

Chirac is a thoroghly dishonest and disgraceful human clown. Knowing full well it was his country that casued the thing to implode he recently suggested that the EU ought to charge carbon based import dutis on America goods. ……This after Chirac was the priniple party to EURO emssions trading falling on it’s arse. In other words who could trust the French or anyone other suspect country to keep within the limits. China? Vietnam perhaps?

Look, call me a sceptic about climate science, but I am willing to go with the IPCC report simply because I am not a scientist and they are, but a carbon tax or an emssion trading system won’t work if honesty has to come into the mix. We will be honest because this place, no matter which party in is power, would not openly cheat. But you cannot trust everyone else.

The other problem we have is that the one Howard sees clearly. Seeing energy is such a key part to our modern way of life in every respect, we have to be a little careful in figuring out what a leap in costs does to our economy. These are all guessimates that have to be matched against the IPCC report when it comes out in March.

I also suggest we think carefully about what we do seeing we have what could be thought of as an absolute advantage in cheaply available electricity.

Sometimes it is worth waiting to get the best result.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
14 years ago

Chirac is a thoroghly dishonest and disgraceful human clown.

JC is spot on.

wbb
wbb
14 years ago

We will be honest because this place, no matter which party in is power, would not openly cheat. But you cannot trust everyone else.

Yeah, you’re right, JC. The fuckers will take us down. Best do nothing.

JC
JC
14 years ago

Wbb

Ok. Fair enough. Please explain how we would measure emissions for a carbon tax and or carbon trading in a way that will eliminate cheating and other acts of omission?

Give us the low down.

Mr Z
Mr Z
14 years ago

The fuckers will take us down. Best do nothing

It’s better than the hose job you would get from doing the ‘right thing’ (eg Kyoto).

JC – c’mon mate, an international oversight tribunal (say India, China, France, Russia) would be impartial. Wouldn’t they?

wbb
wbb
14 years ago

Please explain how we would measure emissions for a carbon tax and or carbon trading in a way that will eliminate cheating and other acts of omission?

But JC, I’m with you already. Those crazy, cheating foreigners, and I’ve bumped into a few myself, are not worth the candle when it comes to doing business with.

Cleanskins like us would get skinned every time. Let’s stay out of this whole Climate Change issue. There’s nothing in it for us.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
14 years ago

The WTO regime works tolerably well to deter countries from dishonestly imposing tariffs and similar protectionist measures by stealth. A similar independent international body empowered to examine the kosherness or otherwise of carbon trading regimes of signatory nations, and to authorise trade sanctions against infringing nations, should also work. The models exist, what is lacking at present is the general will to implement such measures in a serious, meaningful way.

That presumably means that, despite the political rhetoric and the fairly compelling nature of the scientific evidence summarised by the IPCC, many nations still don’t really see global warming as an issue that affects their well-being as critically as does free trade. That will change over time, but whether it will change quickly enough to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change (especially given the lag effect created by the oceans’ heat sink function) remains the 64 gazillion dollar question.

Of course, it may not mean that western leaders in reality doubt the force of global warming science. It may simply mean that they’re reluctant to impose meaningful carbon emissions permit targets until major third world competitors like China and India are similarly bound. Otherwise they fear they’ll just be exporting jobs offshore. While that assertion might display a seeming ignorance of Ricardian principles, the political reality is that the very substantial adjustment effects flowing from unilateral imposition of meaningful carbon taxes or emissions permits, and their domestic political effects, will ensure that no western government is going to rush to embrace such measures (whatever their rhetorical stance).

Meanwhile, China and India are reluctant to bind themselves to meaningful, enforceable targets, given that the whole dilemma has been created by the first world’s having become wealthy by emitting greenhouse gases without restraint for the last 200 years or so. Why should they handicap their development prospects unless and until the first world seriously demonstrates its willingness to pull its weight? So far, not only have the US and Australia declined to sign on to Kyoto, but most of Europe has in reality played silly buggers with carbon trading and emissions targets (as Joe C says).

I suspect that we won’t really achieve a workable international carbon trading/tax regime without the first world accepting the necessity for some degree of subsidisation of emerging economies (like China and India) to adopt clean energy technologies. For example, a deal where China, India etc agree to sign up to enforceable, meaningful greenhouse targets in exchange for a first world commitment to supply nucklear power technology at a price comparable to dirty coal-fired power stations, until those emerging nations achieve some agreed per capita GDP. I have no idea what such a deal would cost, and I’d be very interested in “back of the envelope” calculations from economists like Nicholas Gruen or John Quiggin. In any event, I suspect that some such deal is the only way we’re going to achieve a real international greenhouse reduction strategy in the next decade or two. In the absence of such a deal, we won’t see any concerted action until global catastrophe is undeniably imminent, by which time it will already be too late (because of the lag effects of the oceans).

JC
JC
14 years ago

Thanks for the reply, Ken.

——————————

WBB
There is a choice of not acting in a direct way to curb emissions. It’s not the way you would most prefer, but we would get there far more painlessly than hitting ourselves with a tax or a trading system that would only breed cheating.

A libertarian view (not all libertarians) is that we could there to pretty close negligible emissions by the next 30- 40 years by reducing government action in the economy that is causing mispricing.

A political left- if it was thoughtful and serious about this issue could also tackle the issue in a similar way. Offer tax incentives for investment in nuke plants and allow accelerated depreciation allowances. Allow present coal plants operators to receive a tax write off for existing plants if they were replaced with nukes. Allow seriously attractive investment opportunities for outside investors. Go to zero tax holidays for 20 years if it were necessary. These are things that investment bankers are good at figuring out.

Offer similar concessions for new car owners that went to hybrids. Offer incentives to the car makers in the form of straight tax holidays and very attractive R&D expensing for new hybrid engines.

Ensure the savings rate goes up by offering even better deals in superannuation to ensure we raise the savings rate. Savings fuels capital spending and newer capital machinery is usually more efficient. Offer tax deals on efficiency standards for new equipment. The left is very good a micro reform. This is where they ought to focus in order to reduce emissions.

Here’s a link that explains the use of the new light globe would reduce power demand in a big way.

http://futurist.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/10/the_lighting_re.html

This electric car looks amazing and is supported by Silicon valleys types. It could revolutionize the car industry.

http://futurist.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/12/the_tesla_roads.html

A technological solution could work

Other things:

Immediately remove height restrictions in the large cities. The most vocal nimbies are the ones who are preventing high-rise and high-rise is one of the best ways to reduce car usage. NYC is a great example of people doing away with cars for the simple reason that transport and occasional taxi use is far superior in getting around. The subway is very efficient.

JC
JC
14 years ago

Please take a look at the “car link”.

This is amazing. It can do 0-60 miles in 4 secs and the cost of running is about a 1cent per mile. In 20 years this could close the US trade deficit and ours too. The cost savings for the consumer is enormous, so hope it gets off the ground.

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GMB
GMB
14 years ago

Look fellas.

This is all climate baby-talk until one of you can come up with evidence for the likelihood of catastrophic global warming.

In reality none of you can. Because its just not there. And so this most embarrasing of all scientific scare-stories ought to be exciting the interest of sociologists to find out how something so overpoweringly silly could have come about.

No constituent part of this argument is sound. In fact every single part of it is totally ludicrous.

For starters we are in the middle of the worst ice age for 500 million years. Secondly CO2 emissions are good, in the first instance, for nature and therefore indirectly for man.

Thirdly we have come to a time where its critical we can substitute away from oil to other energy sources principally coal and nuclear. We need to do this in the context of high savings and relentlessly growing energy output because its going to take gargantuaan amounts of capital accumulation and therefore growing energy usage.

Fourthly warming is always a good thing whereas cooling is such a frightful thing that it is blamed for the collapse of civilisations.

This is the wrong topic at the wrong time.

The correct topic is how to destroy this aspect of the ecology movement and get as many coal and nuclear plants up and running as we can and as soon as possible.

GMB
GMB
14 years ago

” 1 Tonne of black coal burnt gives 3.7 tonnes of CO2″

This is very good news for the planet and for nature. But it can ONLY happen if we actually get a lot more of these coal plants being built both domestically and abroad.

Now scientifically there is no controversy to what I’m saying whatsoever. Its just leftist lunatics pretending to know something about science that are causing the problem here.

They don’t actually contradict what I’m saying. What happens instead is the put up a bunch of smokescreens and distractions.

This thread will not be able to contradict a single thing I say here.

But it may be able to DISTRACT people from the reality of it.

wbb
wbb
14 years ago

Well said, GMB.

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