Coal and its Consequences

Clive Hamilton, the executive director of The Australia Institute, and George Monbiot, journalist and environmentalist, have been writing back and forth about the ideas presented in Monbiot’s book Heat. This started with Hamilton’s review of Heat in the New Left Review.

Hamilton has most recently written,

I was taken aback at Monbiot’s endorsement of carbon capture and storage because, in my part of the world, CCS has been advocated not as a means of reducing carbon emissions but as a means of not reducing carbon emissions. In other words, CCS is the excuse du jour for delaying action; having given up attempting to deny the science, the coal lobby and its political supporters have directed attention and funding to CCS. Even its advocates concede that CCS could not make a significant difference to global emissions for 15 or 20 years, yet political supporters of CCS have used it as a reason to withdraw support for the existing technologies that can cut emissions sharply now. A time may come when we must embrace CCS as part of an emergency response, but as long as it is used to avoid rapid adoption of energy efficiency, renewables and natural gas we should avoid giving uncritical endorsement to the coal industry’s get-out-of-jail-free card.

Greenpeace activists project messages onto a grounded coal carrier which ran aground on Nobbys Beach in Newcastle during the severe weather that recently hit the NSW coastline When I first heard about Monbiot’s liking for CCS (carbon capture and storage) I too was surprised. One method of storage is geosequestration which some think would be ideal with Australia’s geological formations. There is debate around the use of CCS. Geoscience Australia say geosequestration is a mature, leading edge and proven technology, although this is only in oil and gas fields, not coal powered electricity plants. Greenpeace say it’s theoretical, unproven, unavailable for at least 15 years, and

there is as yet no coal plant anywhere in the world which captures and sequesters greenhouse gases. It is a solution on paper only.

The Australian Government Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources says,

This is a new technology which is applicable to a number of industry sectors, including the coal, upstream oil and gas, and electricity generation industries.

Australia is an active member of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF). Australia’s government is cosy with the coal lobby. They have a liking for “clean coal” and regularly opine the loss of coal miners’ jobs if we don’t open more coal mines. The New South Wales state government has recently approved a new coal mine at Anvil Hill, NSW.

As Hamilton says, CCS detracts from the real problem of excessive carbon emissions. Hamilton concludes with,

Perhaps too, particularly in the last chapter [of Heat], he wanted to inspire his readers to act. I hope he achieves that goal.

Monbiot has achieved this goal. Sharon and Miranda blog at Simple Living and have developed the Riot for Austerity 90% Emissions Reduction Project and have a target

to cut their emissions by 90% of what the average person in the US consumes – the approximate amount people in the rich world need to reduce by in order to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

They ask people taking part to email them or comment on Simple Living. People from countries elsewhere in the world would work from their country’s average (they suggest looking at government websites for averages). There are rules, which are pretty complicated, but you can use whichever ones you choose and disregard others.

Rhonda from Down to Earth modified the 90% reduction to Australian standards and developed the Cutting Carbons Challenge with a

target to reduce by 10% in six areas in three weeks…when the challenge is over we will all be motivated to continue along the reductionist path.

Clean energy revolution The Cutting Carbons Challenge happened in June, but the details are still available. It uses the ready made spreadsheet from the SBS TV program Eco House Challenge which makes things simple.

Two Australian families (whose blogs I’ve come across) taking part in the Cutting Carbons Challenge are: Towards Sustainability and Grandiflora. Maybe I’ll have to try it.


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