Monday, March 6, 2017

Victoria's Climate Change Act and the limits of the Paris targets

With the passage of a  Climate Act that mandates a target of zero net emissions by 2050, Victoria is formally in the leadership among state and Federal governments.

If the response of Victoria's climate-denying LNP Coalition opposition is anything to go by, the Andrews government must be on the right track: the LNP voted against the climate bill, adding to their opposition to the state's renewable energy target which they declared only weeks earlier. In light of the wrecking tactics that state and federal LNP parties are using against climate action, a clear state target to initiate action is obviously welcome.

If not being climate deniers or the LNP are the only metrics, the target is fine, but this article will seek to address the target on its own merits, not those of its opponents.

Friday, March 3, 2017

How to fix Australia's NEM electricity grid


Why the NEM is a disaster, climate action is the primary casualty, and four essential steps to fix it.

This is a rough draft. As usual, I have an idea which I think is great and then someone else beats me to it: John Quiggin on the ABC website. Well my article is nearly finished (haven't put all references in yet & needs a lot of tidying) but in the interests of timeliness, here it is.

The recent media focus on South Australia's blackouts has brought to the surface the festering problems of the National Electricity Market (NEM) system that serves SA and the eastern states. On the one hand, an oligopoly of mostly private corporations owns and manipulates the system to their own benefit. On the other hand, despite repeated studies showing Australia could easily go to 100% renewable energy (the latest in February 2017), governments talk of new coal power stations and even grant extensions to existing, highly polluting brown coal generators.

A severe storm caused SA's statewide blackout in September 2016, knocking over power pylons that may have been neglected in maintenance since the 1999 privatisation of the state's power grid. Commentators from the ABC to the more predictable Coalition MPs leaped to blame the state's high percentage of wind energy despite knowing that it had nothing to do with the blackouts.

A February 2017 set of rolling blackouts during a heatwave in SA saw renewables once again blamed by Coalition MPs, despite the fact that the state's most efficient gas generator was sitting idle because its owners find it more profitable to sell the gas for export.

Power price spikes in SA in 2016 were also blamed on the state's wind farms and solar, despite a planned outage of the lines that import backup electricity supply to SA from Victoria at the time. Price spikes are normal in such a situation of shortage. More recently, wholesale prices of electricity have been running at the same level as those SA price spikes for all of 2017 so far in Queensland (which has very little renewable energy) This has barely made the news (presumably because there are no wind farms to blame).

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Ecosocialist takes a look at economic paths away from capitalism

Economics After Capitalism: A Guide to the Ruins & a Road to the Future
By Derek Wall
Pluto Press, 2015
Reviewed for Green Left Weekly
Derek Wall, ecosocialist activist and international coordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales, has written a primer on the main strands of economic critique of globalised capitalism.

It is a short and easily readable book, well suited to someone looking for a starting place. For those already embedded in one of these strands, it provides a welcome introduction to some of the others.

It is written in a pedagogical rather than polemical way, promoting understanding before judging — although Wall does not shy away from explaining his own views in the end. This is a great format.

“Globalisation” has been so transparently unstable and unfair that it has generated its own internal critique from Keynesian “insiders” like billionaire investor George Soros and former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Wall says that despite their genuine insights, and those of John Maynard Keynes whose views he also outlines, these figures are “vaccinating against anti-capitalism”. They want to save the system by repairing it. Whether this can succeed is another question.

Melbourne's western grasslands: going, going…

Published in Green Left Weekly, 5/2/2016. An earlier version with references first appeared here.

Although about 99% of Victoria's volcanic plains grasslands have been destroyed by development, some outstanding remnants of this unique ecosystem persist, especially on the western fringes of Melbourne.

The grasslands ecosystem was listed by the federal government as critically endangered in 2008. But at the same time, the then-Labor government of Victoria was initiating an expansion of Melbourne's Urban Growth Boundary that would severely impact some of its best remaining areas.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Geoengineering: Striking targets or missing the point?

This is a response to Phil Sutton's latest paper, StrikingTargets,published by BreakThrough (in Melbourne, not the controversialist US think tank of the same name).

I take issue with the central proposition of the paper, that “Key climate/earth system parameters that need to be restored to safe levels are:
  • ocean heat content
  • global surface temperature
  • ocean acidity
  • sea level”
Geopiracy by ETC Group
How feasible is that list? Are there mechanisms that can reduce ocean heat, for example? Water has a high specific heat capacity, meaning it can absorb a lot of heat energy yet only gain temperature slowly. The reverse is true: it takes a relatively large amount of heat loss before it cools appreciably. (this is due to its molecular structure, the same reason CO2 can hold a relatively high amount of heat in the atmosphere).

The climate science that I've seen referred to over the years on this topic suggests that ocean temperature rise is basically irreversible on human lifetimes. If we stop adding greenhouse gases and stop adding heat to the atmosphere, it may gradually cool back to where it was, but over centuries. In the meantime, warmer oceans means warmer climate and there's not much can be done to change it. Warmer oceans and climate also drive sea level rise.

I haven't seen research on how fast ocean acidification may be reversed, but I suspect it's similar if not slower.

I'm very happy to hear of research which contradicts me on either of these points, of course. But in the meantime, there is only one crucial parameter that we know for sure we can control: the excess greenhouse gases being added to the atmosphere every day, month and year.

(You could add that we can also stop destroying the biodiversity that gives ecosystems some stability and/or adaptability in the face of climate change. Indeed, biodiversity loss is a close second to climate change on the scale of major ecological threats to human civilisation. We will have to work to reverse this, too.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Markets, Economies and other imaginary friends

For years, I've been telling anyone who's willing to listen (and a few who probably weren't) that markets don't exist. Really, they don't. Not in the sense that many refer to them.

Richard Denniss has a fantastic piece in The Monthly debunking the mythology about “The Economy” that dominates contemporary politics like the arcane dogma of a medieval priesthood. He largely covers the points in this blog, but in a broader context. You should read the whole article, but in discussing the mystifications of economics, he says this:

Like the gods of cultures past, “the markets” can be angry. They can be vengeful. And they can punish non-believers. We must consult them cautiously. To simply inquire into the fall in the iron ore price, for instance, might spook them.
While markets are real, it is absurd to suggest that they have feelings, needs or demands. A market is a place where buyers and sellers of a product come together. It might be a physical place, like the fish markets, or a virtual place, like eBay or the stock market. But markets never have feelings.
Appeals to “let the market decide” are frequent in discussing technological innovations, such as renewable energy. Conservatives have often declared that governments have no business in “picking winners” when it comes to wind farms and solar – because it is the job of “the market” to choose. Of course that's their rhetoric for public consumption; in private they are backing the incumbent “winners”, fossil fuels. But it also illustrates their worship of the mystical market-gods quite well.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

What is the "revolutionary legacy" of the Black Panther Party?


This post has been rescued from the depths of my facebook account where I originally posted it in April 2013. 

What are the lessons of the Black Panther Party?

I just attended a great presentation by former Panther member, Billy X Jennings, who was brought to Australia by Socialist Alternative for their annual Marxism conference.

Billy explained a lot of things about the Panthers that match the impression I've got from reading a half dozen or more books by other former members. Not everyone though.

One audience member suggested that “I think I speak for most people here when I say it wasn't your community programs but your revolutionary legacy that inspires us”.

Billy responded that the “survival programs,” as the Panthers called their social programs, were their key legacy.

The naivety of the question, which totally missed so much of the talk (and the introduction by aboriginal Australian activist Gary Foley), astounded me (see below for a video of the talk).

Yet it is probably a common enough misconception. The idea that the Panthers started as a militant, gun-toting, bad-ass group of revolutionaries that degenerated into a community self-help group serving breakfast to schoolkids.

That is so far from the truth, however, that it is ludicrous.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Walking backwards for the future


I like a saying by Arundhati Roy, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

But sometimes it seems like seeing that better world of the future requires eyes in the back of your head. I am thinking of the idea that is apparently the normal way of seeing time in the Aymara language of the Andes: the future is behind us, the past in front.

We don't know the future, but we can see the past. We are weighed down by it, anchored to the tangible experiences that we know. And it could be a good thing: we need to understand where we come from, conserve our history and respect the elders that brought us here.

Well, in general. But at this point in human history, after 500 or so years of wrenching and accelerating global change, many of us have no clear past to see, even as we stumble backwards toward the edge of a cliff. How our parents, or grandparents, lived when they were growing up is almost lost in the fog of memory, already. And we laugh at them as they struggle to use a smartphone or SatNav, cursing “back in my day...”.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Time to kick the moneylenders out of the temple

Today a remarkably farsighted piece by the ABC's business editor is up at The Drum, It's not Greece being bailed out - it's the banks.

"The paupers of Greece are bailing out the Junkers of Europe" as one facebook commentator pithily summed it up.

And this mess of apparently unwise loans has sunk its creeping roots into Australia too, as the Treasury has bluntly pointed out

I'm not sure I'm so optimistic as Verrender on one point though. He says "this week could mark the beginning of the end of the great monetary experiment". Why this week? Why not the 2007 GFC?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Deep Green Zombies Want Your Brains


If you watch zombie movies, you'd probably know that common scene where a character (often a main character) mistakes a zombie for a friend/family/rescuer and stands calmly next to them – until, too late, the undead is chewing on their brains and the hapless victim becomes undead too.

That's the thing about zombies. Superficially at least, they resemble humans in most respects.

Like zombies resemble humans, the politics of the group “Deep Green Resistance” resemble those of a radical green/left group in many ways. But I get the distinct impression that to find yourself alongside them in the green/left movement would be akin to standing next to a zombie. The following is a review of their manifesto, the book Deep Green Resistance (McBay, Keith & Jensen, Seven Stories Press, 2011).