NOAH’S RAINBOW SERPENT – observations by Ian MacDougall

Carbon abatement submission condensed

THE POLITICS, ECONOMICS AND SCIENCE UNDERPINNING THE NEED FOR TRANSITION TO A GREENHOUSE –NEUTRAL ECONOMY FOR AUSTRALIA.

 A CASE FOR ADOPTING THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE ON CLIMATE CHANGE, AND FOR TREATING IT AS A MATTER OF URGENCY.

 [PRELIMINARY NOTE: This is a condensed and slightly amended version of my original submission  to the Australian Senate Inquiry. Since it was submitted, the denialist Professor Ian Plimer has published his book Heaven and Earth. I have read it, and predict that it will become the bible of denialists worldwide. But as a polemical attempt to dismiss climatology, the IPCC, Kyoto and precautionism, it fails on all counts. I have half-finished a critical article about it for Noah’s Rainbow Serpent, and will not mention it further here. -IM, 2 June 2009]

 

The present Federal Government, for what I believe is perfectly understandable political caution, is not treating the climate situation and the potential global catastrophe offering, with nearly enough urgency.

 I begin by recognizing that there is some inevitable uncertainty in the scientific community regarding anthropogenic global warming. However, indications are that to a majority in the world meteorological community, and an overwhelming majority in the climatological community, anthropogenic global warming is as good as proven. [1]

 In these circumstances, the Precautionary Principle [2] offers the only sensible guide to policy formation. Climate disaster is too likely for complacency: the problem is not so much one of mere planetary warming, but of Earth facing at some time in the relatively near future a situation of runaway global warming.

Many scientists outside the climatological community have written on this subject. Two whose names spring to mind are the climate change ‘alarmist’ James Lovelock (author of The Vanishing face of Gaia [3] and Freeman Dyson, [4] prominent physicist and climate change denialist or ‘sceptic’.  Likewise, I am not a climatologist, my scientific training having been in biology. But to me the clearest indicator of global warming is the fact that glacial retreat is now so common as to be universal. That and the fact that according to satellite altimetry mean sea level is rising by 3.2 +/- 0.4 mm per year; due almost certainly to a combination of oceanic thermal expansion and increased glacial meltwater runoff, both produced only by global heating. [2.1])

 In Asia and Alaska, using satellite images and aerial photographic comparison over long time spans, there have been extensive glacier terminus surveys illustrating long term retreat involving no less than 95% of the glaciers.  In 2005 there were 442 glaciers examined, of which only 26 were advancing, 18 were stationary and 398 were in retreat: that is, 90% of them retreating. In 2005, for the first time ever, no observed Swiss glaciers advanced. And of the world’s 26 advancing glaciers, 15 were in New Zealand. [5].

 According to a report in the Melbourne Age of 6.4.2009, “up to one-third of all Antarctic sea ice is likely to melt by the end of the century, seriously contributing to dangerous sea level rises, updated scientific modelling on global warming shows… The modelling is the first release of a landmark study being conducted by the global scientific body the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, made up of the peak scientific bodies from 23 countries including Australia.” [6]

 Though air temperatures whether local or worldwide, daily or annual average, may for various reasons not reflect it, the world is none the less clearly warming. It is now possible to fulfill Lord Franklin’s dream and sail the Northwest Passage over the top of Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific, at least for one month or so in the Northern summer. Possibly within the next ten years ships will be able drop anchor in an essentially ice-free Arctic Ocean, right at the North Pole. That together with the satellite altimetry data on sea levels  testifies to the rapidity of global warming, and of the onset of the positive feedback loops that can only further accelerate it. The safest assumption we can make, in short, is that we face a planetary climate emergency, requiring urgent economic reforms on a comparable scale to those which took place in Australia after the declaration of war in 1939.

 Perhaps as early as 2015, runaway greenhouse may establish. The government acts as if on an assumption that it has plenty of time for whatever action it chooses to take. In that it is possibly wrong.

 Carbon dioxide, which is just one of the greenhouse gases being increased in concentration in the atmosphere thanks to human activity, is already having measurable effects on marine life. A panel of 155 scientists from 26 countries and other international groups has called for “urgent action” to sharply reduce emissions of carbon dioxide due to its effects on ocean life. [7] (That is just one of a deluge of scientific papers and communiqués stressing the need for immediate, thorough and urgent action.) This applies particularly to organisms low on the food pyramids, such as the corals and their symbionts, and the effects carry through to a wide variety of ocean life. It supports what is said in the same subject by the Royal Society  in its Policy document 12/05 of June 2005, entitled Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. [7.1]

 So completely independent of its greenhouse effect, there is an urgent ocean acidity reason for curbing CO2 production. 

 The watery oceans cover 72% of the Earth’s surface, and are on average 3.8 kilometres deep. That is, 3,800 metres. The atmosphere can also be regarded as something of an ocean, but one covering all of the Earth’s surface.  If condensed to the liquid state, the atmosphere would only be 12 metres deep; the depth of the ocean of liquid air that would form if say the Earth were somehow relocated to an orbit beyond that of Saturn, where it would have a maximum temperature around – 200C, at which the air would condense to liquid. In short, compared with the oceans, there is not all that much air around the planet.

 Scientists at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii report that CO2 levels in the atmosphere now stand at 387 parts per million (ppm), up almost 40% since the start of the industrial revolution and the highest for at least the last 650,000 years. [8]

 In the light of the above, I do not find that surprising. We need to lower this to 350 ppm in the view of many experts, to keep the planet safe from possible runaway climate change.  As it is put on the website Understanding 350:

 “Make no mistake–getting back to 350 means transforming our world. It means building solar arrays instead of coal plants, it means planting trees instead of clear-cutting rainforests, it means increasing efficiency and decreasing our waste. Getting to 350 means developing a thousand different solutions–all of which will become much easier if we have a global treaty grounded in the latest science and built around the principles of equity and justice. To get this kind of treaty, we need a movement of people who care enough about our shared global future to get involved and make their voices heard.” [9]

 That is why I am making this submission to this Inquiry.

Pieter Tans of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said of the climatic threshold uncertainty:

 “Our biggest science problem is that we do not know how strong the climate feedbacks are, or even whether we know all of the ones that are important on decadal and longer time scales… Especially the latter are intrinsically very hard to figure out because they are (by definition) slow, and they could all be working simultaneously, some positive, some negative. Basically, we are playing Russian roulette, with the revolver pointed at the generation of our children and grandchildren.” [10]

 The carbon dioxide which makes up those 387 parts per million of the volume of the present atmosphere, would make up the same proportion of the liquid depth were the atmosphere condensed the way I have described. One one-millionth part of that depth of 12 metres is approximately one one hundredth of a millimeter, or 0.01 mm, which is almost exactly the thickness of ‘Glad-Wrap’ polythene wrapping. So if we represent the each part per million of CO2 in the air with a single layer of ‘Glad-Wrap’ – which is a valid model more or less on a molecular basis – then 387 layers of it, the equivalent of a single polythene sheet about 4 mm thick, roughly equates to all the atmospheric CO2. That is, the depth of it which would condense out as solid if the planet was cold enough and all other gases were somehow removed from the atmosphere. We are presently adding to that by one thickness of “Glad-Wrap’ per year, and that is having a detectable effect on the Earth’s climate according to the majority of the world’s climatologists. (While I do not equate 0.01 mm of polythene with 1 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere in terms of their respective heat-trapping properties, that I suggest is nonetheless a chastening thought for a parent to have while wrapping up a child’s school lunch. Polythene, as it happens, also makes quite an effective greenhouse when used to cover plants: even just a single layer of it.)

 The Earth’s axial tilt or the obliquity to the ecliptic is 23° 26’. This produces a difference of 46° 52’ in the midday elevation of the sun between midsummer and midwinter, which varies the mean midday maximum temperature in Canberra by 17 Celsius degrees between January and July. Each average degree rise is produced by a ‘slight’ (some might say ‘negligible’) rise of 2.8 degrees in the elevation of the noonday sun.  So in the context of that, I think that adding the equivalent of one sheet of ‘Glad Wrap’ per year to the covering of the air will conceivably have an effect along the same lines. How many degrees per sheet, or degrees per part per million of CO2 is still open to debate, but it is certainly greater than zero.

 As has been observed by others, we are running an uncontrolled experiment on the planet which will tell us something of what happens as a result of the increases we have seen in our lifetimes in the concentration of atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases. It is uncontrolled because we are not isolating the factors and dealing with them one at a time while holding all other factors and conditions constant, and also because we don’t have a pristine sister planet to serve as a reference Earth; that is, as an experimental control. If we had such a comparison planet, we could perhaps find out the effect on global temperature of stripping all the CO2 out of the Earth’s atmosphere. (My money would be on a much colder planet Earth.) Computer models I understand are around that purport to do this, but the best computer for it would be a duplicate planet Earth.

 Climate change deniers often claim that the Earth has been warmer before, and that the atmosphere has held greater concentrations of CO2 before. Those claims may in part be true, but the matter of concern in the climate precautionists’ camp is the rate of increase of CO2 concentration, which the biological systems for CO2 removal cannot keep pace with, and which may well be unprecedented in the entire climate history of the Earth. That rate of CO2 accumulation is the result of burning in about 250 years the megatonnages of fossil carbon (about 90% of it coal) resulting from millions of years of photosynthesis and sedimentary accumulation, from about the Carboniferous on.

 Though the climate change deniers whistle in the dark and purport to make merry at our expense, we climate change precautionists have the luxury of being able to say that we wish that the other side in the ‘debate’ was right. (Or rather say, in what little ‘debate’ there is left.) They don’t seem to mind if the planet gets rattled around in a cup like a die and cast out on the gaming table. We do.

 In the last analysis, it’s that simple. Which brings me to what we might do about it, and inevitably therefore, to the carbon geosequestration issue; the dice throw on which the Howard and Rudd governments have bet so many of the nation’s chips.

 CAN GEOSEQUESTRATION OF CO2 SAVE AUSTRALIA’S COAL INDUSTRY?

 Geosequestration (otherwise known as ‘clean coal technology’) is seen by coalmining interests and both sides of politics as the hope and salvation not only of the coal industry, but of the biggest part of the country’s foreign trade, and therefore of the country financially. Remember please that iron ore exports are useless to their buyers without carbon to smelt them to iron. Greenhouse thus threatens iron ore too.

 Understandably therefore, geosequestration is soaking up a lot of research money at present. That money could be put to better and more immediate use, and I am not the only person to argue this way. 

 The following is from Andrew C. Revkin of the New York Times:

 Many experts say that neither the original [US] plan nor the revamped effort, nor the few [geosequestration] projects underway in other countries, are sufficient to set the stage for pumping tens of billions of tons of compressed carbon dioxide into the earth or sea bed starting 10 or 20 years from now.

 Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba, has estimated that capturing and burying just 10 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted over a year from coal-fire plants at current rates would require moving volumes of compressed carbon dioxide greater than the total annual flow of oil worldwide — a massive undertaking requiring decades and trillions of dollars. “Beware of the scale,” he stressed. [11]

 

I have written a long article on this under the title The Future of Carbon, in which I have independently arrived at much the same estimate as Smil, and which is on my blog site [12]. To put it in a nutshell, geosequestration involves each year pumping huge masses of liquid CO2 into deep rock strata. (To dispose of all industrially produced CO2, we are talking tonnages of about three times the total tonnage of coal, petroleum and gas consumed per year). The captured CO2 gas has to be pumped at around 100 atmospheres pressure down shafts drilled to about a vertical kilometer into subterranean aquifers or the seabed. For comparison, a car tyre operates at around 2 atmospheres pressure. There is no question as to its technical feasibility on a small scale, but at the industrial scale required is another matter again.

 

However, all the available space down in the possible aquifers is presently occupied either by the material of the rocks, or by the liquid that saturates them, which is in most cases water. As liquids are incompressible, the fact that the CO2 can be pumped down at all means that water is being displaced out of its way. In other words, whatever liquid is presently down there has to be free to go somewhere else than where it presently is.

 

It would be different if CO2 were insoluble in water, and could be stored underground as gas or liquid over water, as the insoluble hydrocarbons are stored in natural deposits. But unlike hydrocarbons, CO2 is reasonably soluble in water.  (The solution is commonly known as soda water.) The hope of the geosequestrationists is that in the long term (over thousands and probably millions of years from the time of sequestration) the CO2 will slowly react with iron and magnesium compounds down there to form permanent mineral deposits bonded into the rocks. What we do not know is whether or not that happens, and on what time scale. But long before that might happen, the dissolved CO2 will too likely have managed to migrate through the aquifer rock to reach the ocean at an undersea outcrop of the aquifer. For as I said, if the CO2 can be pumped down, some liquid is moving to make way for it, and it all surely has to go somewhere. Just where is uncertain, but scientific perceptions are resting in too large a part on the economic needs of coal and steel interests for us to have unreserved confidence in them.

 Australia’s coal burning power stations and iron and steel plants are located relatively close to the coast, as are its coal mines. This fits in by and large with the global pattern for location of major coal burning facilities. The economic imperatives of pumping all the CO2 they produce down into the sedimentary strata below as liquid mean that the geosequestration sites should ideally be as close to the coal burning sources of CO2 as possible, which thus means close to the coast: giving the CO2 minimal distance to migrate through the rock in order to emerge into the seawater, where there is already too much of it. This threatens to make the proposed carbon geosequestration one of the greatest follies of all time, and a monumental waste of money.

 But wait. There’s more: Perhaps only 100 or so years from now, humanity will need the carbon dioxide for plant food material, as by then Peak Oil will be past and Peak Coal will be creating shortages of the principal reducing agent for the smelting of iron, and the principal fuel for thermal power stations.

 A disclosure at this point: I own BHP shares, so in a way I am operating against my short term financial interest here. But I believe that I am operating in the far more important longer term interest of the biosphere. The best information I have seen indicates without a shadow of a doubt to my mind that a government policy based on the hope that geosequestration will save the coal industry is a chase after a complete illusion.

 The carbon we use as fuel was sequestered after the rise of the land plants, the first fossils of which appear in sedimentary rocks of Silurian age (laid down between 443 and 417 million years ago.) But the period of geological time that stands out for coal formation is the Carboniferous (354 to 290 million years ago), there followed, as the race callers say, by the Permian (290 to 248 million years ago). The formation of coal, oil, natural gas and limestone are processes which have never ceased, and can be seen still going on today.

 How much carbon is in the coal, as distinct from the rocks generally? A block of coal 1 km square at its base and 800 m high would have a mass of one gigatonne. Globally, there are 909 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon in coal, of which 479 Gt are in high grade (bituminous coal and anthracite) and 430 Gt are sub-bituminous and lignite (ie brown coal). The world’s remaining oil deposits contain another 130 Gt of carbon, and natural gas another 110 Gt. As the mass ratio of the carbon in CO2 to that of the whole molecule is 12:44, considerably more CO2 by mass will be produced as compared with the mass of fossil fuel burnt; particularly for coal, which is 50-80% carbon. (The carbon statistics above are from a Columbia University source cited in The Future of Carbon.) [13]

 The remaining coal reserves contain 79% of the fossil fuel carbon, the oil reserves 11%, and the natural gas reserves 10%.

 The  Utsira aquifer in Norway, which is the world’s most advanced geosequestration project to date, has shown that it can take one million tonnes of CO2 produced in the adjacent oilfield in a year. However, this is dwarfed by the just the increase of emissions of greenhouse gases from the EU-25, which increase was 18 million tonnes (0.4 %) between 2003 and 2004. Emissions from the EU-15 increased by 11.5 million tonnes (0.3 %) in the same period.

 That is to say, the European increase per year alone is eighteen times the mass of CO2 injected per year to date into the Utsira aquifer, which helpfully is in close proximity to the CO2 source: the Sleipner oilfield.

 The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing by 0.4% per year, because the natural sequestering systems cannot cope with the Earth’s total annual increase in CO2 production.  So the mass of CO2 that must be sequestered globally per year by other than natural means, just to hold the global atmospheric concentration constant, is 0.4% of the annual global CO2 production of 3,000 Gt, or 1.2 x 10^10 tonnes. When we write that out in longhand, it comes to 12,000,000,000 tonnes per year, or 33 million tonnes of CO2 per day.

  Australia’s share of the task is no trifle either. In 2004-5 Australian total domestic energy consumption was 5,525 petajoules (PJ).  Of  this, 41 % came from coal, 35% from oil, 19% from natural gas and 5% from renewables. 41% of 5,525 PJ is 2,265 PJ, which translates to 79 million tonnes of coal. If we assume this to be on average 70% carbon, that makes 55 million tonnes of carbon, which burned to yield around 200 million tonnes of CO2 that year; around 560,000 tonnes per day: the mass that must be buried under Australia if locally-burnt fuel is to contribute zero CO2 to the global atmosphere and ocean problems.

 What I have submitted above shows clearly that CCS is a loser from the very start. The money would be better invested in renewables, and in phasing down coal fired power generation and retraining those workers involved in all stages of that industry.

 To my mind, titanium has a big future as a replacement metal for steel. It is the ninth most abundant element in the Earth’s crust and Australia is the world’s leading producer of it. Research on it to date indicates that future mass production of it will be electrolytic, along the lines of present aluminium production and potentially at around the same cost per unit mass as aluminium. I am sure that money of the amount that is presently being plunged into the boondoggle of CCS would be far better invested in areas like this. Needless to add, the electricity for the production of both aluminium and titanium can be generated in ways other than by coal fire. (Disclosure: I own shares in Iluka Resources, a leading producer of titanium minerals.) 

 HOWARD’S POLICY OF DENIALISM VS THE RUDD-WONG OPTIMISTIC MINIMALISM.

 A 5% reduction of emissions by 2020 – about half of one percent per year from a base of 2009 levels, is woefully inadequate tokenism in the face of the present danger; which I stress again lies in the probability that the climatologists and other climate alarmists are right.  Government policy is comparable to the stance of the pacifists in 1939, or to some plan to increase British defence spending by half of one percent per year in response to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. But the choice of a cap-and-trade scheme as the vehicle whereby remedy will be brought about makes it almost certain that even that pathetic reduction will not be achieved. As Bernard Keane of crikey.com observed: The Government scheme will not establish incentives to reduce emissions and will not drive any transition to low-carbon industries and the jobs that will emerge from them. And by offering such an unambitious target it will undermine efforts to establish a global deal that might prevent Australia from suffering the worst effects of climate change, with the employment consequences that will flow from that. [14] That is putting it mildly.

To put the issue in context: By our industrial activities, we the human species have been transferring carbon from the sedimentary strata below to the atmosphere above and around us. In time, that carbon will move back to the biosphere via photosynthesis, from whence it originally came however many millions of years ago. But because the carbon is being moved to the air faster than natural systems can remove it (hence the 1 ppm per year rate of accumulation) there are unwanted side effects that are too likely to spell disaster for world civilisation. The task before the concerned governments of the world is to slow down the rate at which CO2 is added to the air sufficiently for the natural removal systems to gain the upper hand again.

In a market economy, that means using cap and trade regulations or the tax system to make fossil carbon sufficiently more expensive as to reduce its use eventually to about 10% of present levels. This I would emphasise, is a transition we will have to make anyway in the lifetime of a baby born today, because fossil fuel is finite and running out.

 Cap and trade can be selective, and both sufficiently subtle and sufficiently selective as to be apparently painless to the voter, thereby mollifying any tendency on that voter’s part to vindictiveness. Hence its attraction for political parties wishing to win elections. But it is also cumbersome, grossly inefficient, and unlikely to be either rort-free or workable.

 Carbon taxation on the other hand can be targeted precisely at the real source of the problem, which is fossil fuels, and progressively adjusted to achieve the desired effect. Provided the accounting is completely open, the revenue raised can all be seen to be being spent on greenhouse neutral substitute forms of energy. However it is inevitable that a proportion voters watching the numbers roll on the petrol pump, and perusing their quarterly electricity bills, will be disturbed, upset or even outraged by what they see.

 At the present time the simplest and easiest way to find out what an industrial plant’s CO2 output has been over any time period is to calculate it from the mass of carbon-based fuel inputs consumed there in that period. (All the carbon inputs are measured scrupulously in the marketing process before they reach the furnaces or the engines.) To base carbon accounting on outputs such as measured CO2 in flue gases is to open up a real can of worms and create a potential banquet for lawyers.

 Entitlements to pollute the air must not be exceeded if a system of cap and trade is to work, but as the incentives for rorting are huge, attempts to do so can only be expected. Indeed, the scheme has opened for business with a huge rort in the form of free permits for the major polluters. Moreover, there is no cap and trade system in satisfactory operation anywhere in the world on which Australia’s can be modelled.  Major CO2 sources like agriculture and motor transport both public and private will be left right out of it, though small emitters like individual farms, motor vehicles, stationary engines and garbage tips produce most of the country’s emitted greenhouse gas.  This is clear on the government’s own website [15]. Inherently taxable carbon inputs figure in nearly all such sources.

 I would stress here that once the country is locked into cap and trade, it will be very difficult to change to carbon taxation with preserved equity and fairness. Those who purchase carbon credits will feel entitled to value for their money, and cheated if their asset is suddenly devalued or rendered worthless by a switch in government policy. The politically most pain-free solution would then be along the lines of the US Government’s recent rescue of the Wall Street banks: to buy the troublesome assets using huge volumes of the taxpayers’ money.

 This sort of problem would not present itself in a future switch from carbon taxation to cap and trade. Taxes are abolished quite frequently and painlessly.

 I conclude that the Government is looking for what it thinks is the easiest course politically. Fuel and electricity price hikes resulting from deliberate government taxation policy would give a marvellous opportunity for every populist climate change denying opportunist commentator in the land to cane the government.

 As I see it, the most rational way around such predictable objections to carbon taxation from the Murdochian commentariat and the vested interests they speak for is for the Federal Government to follow a sequential process:

 (a) start investing significantly in alternative energy,

(b) produce some tangible results from it of value to the mass of the population, and then

(c) tax carbon inputs to conventional energy generation to cover the outlays.

 The advantage of taxing inputs rather than trying to police, restrict and penalize outputs, as with cap and trade, is that the fossil fuel inputs are easily traceable and accountable through the relatively few points of bulk sale of the coal, petroleum and gas.

 The task for the government on the international stage is one of avoiding being seen as a greenhouse shirker. Because in the (too likely) event of climate change producing increasingly savage outcomes in the short to medium term, Australia is equally likely to emerge as an apologising, coal-touting international pariah on the issue, and to become the target of economic retaliation designed to bring this country to heel. Such punitive measures would not cost their users much, and indeed, could be very much to their advantage.

Let us just consider the one important area:  Australia’s relationship with China. As the Chinese government knows only too well, climate change threatens China’s water supplies in two of the three major rivers fed from the snows and glaciers of the Himalayan Plateau: the Yellow and the Yangtse. The flow in these rivers is already diminishing as climate change bites into the mountain glaciers and wetlands that feed them. The potential for domestic civil unrest in China resulting from diminished water supplies will probably be enough to push its government towards an anti-shirker attitude. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau used to boast of 36,000 glaciers covering an area of 50,000 sq km. In the past 100 years, their area has shrunk by 30 percent. [18]

Trade sanctions, which have already been threatened, will in the absence of countervailing measures elsewhere, produce a fall in the Australian dollar. Ironically this will make the goods we sell to the world such as iron ore and coal cheaper to buy, and with less return for this country. When push comes to shove, nobody much stands to lose by finding reasons to punish Australia for climate inaction.

                         THE TRANSITION TO BE BORNE IN MIND: AUSTRALIA MASSIVELY RESTRUCTURED

 The scale of the task ahead should not be underestimated or dismissed, as the climate change deniers would have us do. To be safe, in the next 40 years, the world has to pull its fossil fuel consumption back to 10% of what it is today. That means at the one extreme, a tenfold increase in carbon use efficiency, or at the other, a 90% reduction in planetary consumption of coal and petroleum, and of the commodities made involving use of carbon-based fuel; or something in between amounting to change no less drastic. Without any trade-offs between sectors, that means in turn 90% less iron and steel, coal fired power, cement and concrete, transportation and possibly 90% less aluminium.

 What follows are some elements of a possible and quite likely future scenario: The Australia we inhabit in 40 years time (I will be 110 years old by then and likely somewhat slower than I am now) will have been changed utterly by comparison with the country we know today.

 Suburban rooves will form a vast sea of photovoltaic cells and solar water heaters. Wind generation towers will be a common sight on hills, mountains and ridges. Large solar-thermal mirrors will be providing the concentrated heat necessary for industrial processes like brick and glass production. Coastlines will be dotted with wave and tide driven generators, many of them completely submerged and out of sight. Aircraft and ships will receive preferential concessions for fossil fuel use, made up for by reductions in other areas of the economy where substitutes are more readily used. Electric vehicles will be a common sight in the streets. At the same time, most coal production will be for feedstock for the roadsurfacing, synthetic rubber and plastics industries. Fossil fuel prices will have risen so far as to reduce consumption by 90%, necessitating in turn much rationalization of fossil-fuel burning transport. Smart meters will regulate household and business power consumption. Price increases for containers made of glass, aluminium and steel will favour redesign of those so that they can be refilled and reused, or else phased out. And so on…

 Business as usual is the alternative to transforming the economy along such lines, and if chosen, will remain in place until its own heat death. Those still around will watch Australia gradually turning into a sun-baked desert country of dwindling plant and animal life, in which frequent gang warfare settles disputes over food and fuel, and whose citizens face ever diminishing quality of being.

 That has been the fate of the once-prosperous Somalia. It did not descend to its present level through climate change alone, or in the manner that now threatens Australia. But it provides us none the less with a chilling look into a possible Australian future if we do not deal properly with global climate change. [19]

 The moral: enjoy the view of contemporary Australia while it lasts, because if nothing serious is done about the probably forthcoming catastrophe and the highly probable part that atmospheric CO2 will be playing in it, contemporary Australian reality could turn rapidly to a fond memory, providing some relief perhaps from an awful actual situation.

 The global political challenge:  Australia under the Howard government was rightly held up to scorn and ridicule internationally for refusing to sign the Kyoto Accords. However, a policy identical to Howard’s in all but in name is being followed today by the Rudd government, which is timidly making any action on this country’s part conditional on what other nations do; trying so to speak, to lead from the rear.

 What we should be doing is finding a position just in front of the frontrunners of the pack and leading from there. Let me stress that: just in front.

 So in the light of whatever reduction in per capita CO2 output has been achieved by the best in the world, we have to just exceed it to have the best political credibility, and challenge the world to play leapfrog with it from there.

 Tariffs and other economic penalties will be imposed on shirkers as the climate situation deteriorates. The way things are shaping up, we stand to have them imposed upon us by some we would trade with. But whatever we choose, cap and trade or taxation, our citizenry will become just as vindictive towards shirkers as any in the world.

 However I expect that on performance to date, and under the inevitable self-centred and short-sighted lobbying and pressure from vested interests, Australia’s government will try to stay on the cap and trade path. It will be a miserable and tokenistic failure, but cheered to the bitter end by the lawyers who make their fortunes from the voluminous litigation in the Federal Cap and Trade Court. But when it finally becomes completely unworkable, we will likely find that our solar and other renewable industries will not be in a position to replace even a fraction of our export income from coal, and with the coal industry at the same time an unreconstructed shambles. Neither in this country nor in those we have tried to sell the combination of coal and geosequestration technology to will there exist viable markets for either.

 

 

 

 NOTES AND REFERENCES

 

[1] http://news.mongabay.com/2009/0122-climate.html

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle

[2.1] http://sealevel.colorado.edu/current/sl_noib_global_sm.jpg   

[3] http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/non-fiction/article5771740.ece

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/29/magazine/29Dyson-t.html?_r=1&ref=science

[5] ] http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/01/a-global-glacier-index-update/

[6] http://www.theage.com.au/environment/antarctic-ice-melting-faster-than-expected-20090405-9t9v.html   

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/31/science/earth/31ocean.html?_r=2

[7.1] http://royalsociety.org/displaypagedoc.asp?id=13314

[8] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/13/carbonemissions.climatechange

[9] http://www.350.org/understanding-350

[10] http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/28/tipping-points-and-the-climate-challenge/

[11] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/03/weekinreview/03revk.html 

[12] https://noahsarc.wordpress.com/the-future-of-carbon/

[13] http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/edu/dees/V1003/lectures/global_carbon_cycle/

[14] http://www.crikey.com.au/Politics/20090316-Why-the-Government-ETS-is-a-dog-of-a-scheme.html 

[15] http://www.climatechange.gov.au/inventory/2006/index.html

[16] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123725594071950875.html

[17] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanadium_redox_battery

[18] http://www.bio-medicine.org/medicine-news/Rivers-in-China-Shrinking-Due-to-Climate-Change-23251-1/ 

[19] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Somalia

 

 

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