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Minister for coal out of step with climate change action

You could say we’d hit the jackpot – four local climate campaigners scoring a meeting with their federal MP, who also happens to be the energy and resources minister in the Rudd Labor Government.

Martin Ferguson holds the eminently safe but greening Victorian seat of Batman. A couple of weekends earlier, an Earth Hour demonstration at his Preston office had called on the champion of emissions-intensive fossil fuel exports and power generation to switch to renewables. Australia is heavily dependent on coal for its domestic energy supply, and is the world’s largest coal exporter.

Now Ferguson was sitting across the table from us, a minder scribbling quietly beside him. He said the Government would take the emissions trading scheme to the Senate again in May, but it would fail and Labor would face the next election without a price on carbon.

What of the Greens’ proposal for an interim, two-year carbon tax? Ferguson offered two main objections: a lack of certainty for business, and the blunt statement that there would “never be a settlement” with the Greens on this issue.

While some business uncertainty is surely a reasonable price to avoid the certainty of climate impacts, Ferguson’s blanket exclusion of a climate settlement seems at odds with claimed negotiations between climate change minister Senator Penny Wong and Greens Senator Christine Milne. In the week following our meeting, in fact, The Age quoted Greens leader Bob Brown as being “in a mood to do a deal” on the ETS.

Nothing, however, would be good enough for the Greens, Ferguson claimed – climate change was, for them, a political question, while for Labor it was an economic and environmental one. He had no reply to the argument that the Greens would be hard-pressed to reject for political motives any plan that actually reflected the climate science, in stark contrast with the measures currently proposed by Labor.

While there was some enthusiasm when the talk switched to renewables, Ferguson said coal “would be with us for both our lifetimes”, with no option, it seemed, to leave it in the ground – an imperative of the strongest current science on solving the climate crisis.

He asserted, instead, that carbon capture and storage (CCS) was a “proven technology”, challenged only by the “cost of deployment”. This contrasted with large-scale concentrated solar thermal (CST) technologies already working in Spain and the United States. Solar, according to Ferguson, needed to be “proved up”.

Yet for James Hansen, the world’s leading climate scientist, clean coal is an “illusion”. In September 2009, ABC TV Four Corners also questioned the beleaguered technology in its program. A few days after our meeting, it also aired ‘A Dirty Business’, a program exposing the health and environmental impacts of coal mining in the NSW Hunter valley. Without the elusive prospect of CCS, coal is more than twice as carbon-intensive as gas, which itself is more than 30 times more carbon-intensive than CST.

Despite the profound challenges of such a massively carbon-intensive energy source, the Government’s current ETS proposal includes $1.5 billion compensation for the coal industry and $7.3 billion for fossil-fuel electricity generators. To these billions of public funds can be added the slated $47-billion, five-year investment in an obsolete power grid that, according to Fairfax green business writer Paddy Manning, “entrenches electricity generation from fossil fuels and will only accelerate climate change”.

Though disagreeing with Manning’s analysis, Ferguson admitted that $100 billion would likely be needed “just to keep where we are” with the current power network – more than a Zero Carbon Australia 2020 plan would spend over 10 years ($92 billion) towards a renewables-friendly smart grid.

Strangely, Ferguson seemed also to draw support for his multi-billion-dollar fossil-fuel grid from evidence at the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission about the role of faulty power lines in the Black Saturday fires. A safe grid is, of course, a necessity, but one geared to fossil fuels would only promote global warming and a consequent worsening of bushfire risk in Australia.

By this stage, however, Ferguson had relaxed. He sat back in his chair, smiling. Here, after all, was the minister for the prevention of blackouts, standing against those he claimed would flick the switch on the super-polluting Hazelwood coal-fired power station tomorrow, without any plan for the workers or for keeping the lights on.

Darren Lewin-Hill met with Ferguson on Friday, 9 April 2010 with representatives from Darebin Climate Action Now, organisers of the meeting, and of the Earth Hour event at Ferguson’s electorate office.

30
  • 1
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Tuesday, 20 April 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    If you’re going to quote James Hansen as an authority on clean coal, you really ought to give his opinion on nuclear vs solar (and wind) as well. On that score, I think you might find Martin Ferguson is part of the solution, and I suspect you, Mr Lewin-Hill, might be part of the problem.

  • 2
    Michael
    Posted Tuesday, 20 April 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Darren when exactly does this madness end?

    When do you just take a tablet, go for a long walk and rethink your life’s objectives?

    In case you haven’t noticed, there is a small natural phenomenon taking place just North of UK.

    An unstoppable phenomenon that is spewing 100 times the amount of CO2 (solid & gaseous) into the atmosphere, that mankind will produce in the next 20 years.

    In other words the Northern Hemisphere is drowning in atmospheric CO2 and your describing the weather bureau’s meeting room.

  • 3
    Stafford van Putten
    Posted Tuesday, 20 April 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Michael, seriously, where are you getting your information?

    Aside from the numerous other sources of info available, here’s one:

    The Guardian
    “According to the Environmental Transport Association, by the end of today the flight ban will have prevented the emission of some 2.8m tonnes of carbon dioxide since the first flights were grounded.
    The volcanic eruption has released carbon dioxide, but the amount is dwarfed by the savings.”

    Here’s event a pretty picture

    Anyway, distractions aside, thanks Mr Lewin-Hill for bringing detail of your interview with Mr Ferguson to an audience. However a transcript of the interview would also have been appreciated. (you know how it is, earn our respect by showing us respect…)

    He sat back in his chair, smiling.” Because, despite the arguments of people such as yourself, climate scientists, and even prominent economists, he knows he is a lot closer to winning the battle over lay people’s hearts and minds than you are. Why he wants to “win” in such a terrible way, with so much at risk is beyond me.

  • 4
    Michael James
    Posted Tuesday, 20 April 2010 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Well guys, this may come as a bit of a shock to you and your sense of your all important place in the world, but from his side of the table you are nothing but yet another group of lobbyists.

    In fact, from his side of the table you are not even a particularly useful set of lobbyists, you are not bringing new investment, new jobs or other tangibles to the table.

    Instead you are telling him to tear up an industry that underpins the prosperity of much of Australia, employs tens of thousands of (mostly unionised) workers and is vital to our continued future as a rich, industrialised, western nation.

    As scientists and engineers have stated for two generations, renewable energy is no replacement for base load power, solar, wind, thermal, geothermal, tidal etc are interesting adjuncts to a power grid, but you need base load power.

    That means hydro (limited and of variable reliability here in Australia due to drought), gas (an increasing percentage of the national grid is gas fired), coal (which we have in abundance, together with the infrastructure to support it) and nuclear (at which the green lobby sticks it fingers in its ears and starts saying nah-nah-nah-nah-nah every time it’s mentioned).

    All in all, I am surprised he gave you the time he did, but then Ferguson has a reputation for being polite, even to time wasters.

  • 5
    Michael
    Posted Tuesday, 20 April 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Staff you are utterly clueless.

    2.8m tones of CO2 saved? Wow! Terrific!

    Can you imagine how much CO2 has spewed out of an eruption that covered all of Europe & part of Russia?

    Mate if every airplane in the world took off at midnight and kept flying for 100 years they would not come close the exhaust emanating from Iceland.

  • 6
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Tuesday, 20 April 2010 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Stop digging, Michael not-James. Follow the hyperlink Stafford has provided, and those therein, whereupon you can see for yourself exactly how wrong you are, and why.

  • 7
    Stafford van Putten
    Posted Tuesday, 20 April 2010 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    MICHAEL, thanks for calling me clueless. You won me over with that, I now am a devout follower of your path…

    Or, perhaps you will look into the fact that not all emmissions are the same when it comes to their impact on the greenhouse effect. Some are made of small particles, others are made of large particles, some are light and some are heavy. Some are made of reflective material, others are not.

    MICHAEL JAMES, Serious failure of the imagination.

    Basically, what you’re saying is that this is the way it has been for years, we’re wealthy and happy because of the way things are, and nothing should change because change will only present us with negative outcomes. When you’re onto a good thing, stick with it, eh… No matter the consequences?

    *Sigh*

    I dont have time to annoy you with all the problems with your comment, however, here’s a future possibility that might give your imagination a boost.

    Ever thought that the tens of thousands of Aussies who work hard in our mines might actually have their jobs threatened within 10-15 years by robotic automation? (consider the injury prone mining environment and how bad the PR is when fatalities happen)

    Also, explain to me how geothermal power (whilst by no means perfect) does not represent a 24h source of electricity? In doing proper research so you will either enlighten me, or yourself. Either would be appreciated.

    MARK, cheers for that

  • 8
    Malcolm Street
    Posted Tuesday, 20 April 2010 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Michael,

    Dr Karl on Sunrise a few days ago, when asked about effects on global warming, IIRC put the CO2 output of the volcano at c. 14,000 tonnes per day, vs millions of tonnes saved from grounded airliners.

  • 9
    zut alors
    Posted Tuesday, 20 April 2010 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    @ STAFFORD VAN PUTTEN

    That’s a cogent point you make about robotic labour.

    How tiresome it is to constantly hear ‘jobs’ parroted as an excuse for plundering resources, landscapes, environment, societies. Some people appear not to understand there will be employment associated with renewable energy.

    I sometimes ponder if the USA had channeled the exorbitant cost of the Iraq war into researching a sustainable alternative energy source to oil they may have been in a position by now to tell the Middle East to shove their black gold where the sun don’t shine. Political leaders mostly think like unimaginative stymying fogeys.

    No innovation, just the same old, same old.

  • 10
    Michael
    Posted Tuesday, 20 April 2010 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Mal

    You did say Dr Karl, yes?

    You do know that his qualifications as a climate scientist are derived from the same education that made him a GP, yes?

    Mate use Google instead of Channel 7 for your info in future, yes?

  • 11
    Michael
    Posted Tuesday, 20 April 2010 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    The atmosphere now contains 800 billion tonnes (Gt) of carbon as CO2, soils vegetation and humus contain 2,000 Gt carbon in various compounds, the oceans contain 39,000 Gt and limestone, a rock that contains 44 per cent CO2, contains 65,000,000 Gt carbon.

    The atmosphere contains only 0.001 per cent of all carbon at the surface of the Earth and far greater quantities are present in the lower crust and mantle of the Earth. Human additions of CO2 to the atmosphere must be taken into perspective.

    Over the past 250 years, humans have added just one part of CO2 in 10,000 to the atmosphere. One volcanic cough can do this in a day.” Pilmer

  • 12
    Michael
    Posted Tuesday, 20 April 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    To date - on the topic of man v’s Volcano Pilmer has not been questioned, disputed, argued with.

  • 13
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Wednesday, 21 April 2010 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    So we can expect Martin Ferguson to lead the conversion to robotic mining machines? I’d like to see that.

  • 14
    James Bennett
    Posted Wednesday, 21 April 2010 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Dr Karl is obviously a re-user of dodgy information and has made some serious withdrawls from his credibility bank.

    http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2010/correction-apology-planes-or-volcano/

    Still it is hard to believe this volcano is emitting less CO2 per day than the grounded European air traffic would so i’d expect these figures to be adjusted again as real scientists investigate the proposal.

  • 15
    2dogs
    Posted Wednesday, 21 April 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Instead you are telling him to tear up an industry that underpins the prosperity of much of Australia, employs tens of thousands of (mostly unionised) workers and is vital to our continued future as a rich, industrialised, western nation.”

    I always find this sort of argument so fundamentally flawed.
    Furthermore to place it into perfect, historical, context about 200 years ago this exact same debate was taking place. Britain had the chance to rid itself of a source of power that, while cheap and ensured a strong job market, was morally and ethically wrong.
    After much debate and the exact same sort of fear-mongering that you are peddling the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was passed.
    Funnily enough the British economy did not collapse but rather flourished after that as new and creative ways of powering the economy devised.

  • 16
    Stafford van Putten
    Posted Wednesday, 21 April 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    @MICHAEL
    Whilst I intend to pay no disrespect to Ian Pilmer (assuming that is the Pilmer you are referring to…) I surely would take the views of independent climate scientists over that of a geologist on the board of three mining companies… earning hundreds of thousands of dollars from them… I’m sure he would agree, assuming he is an honest scientist, that if his ideas are sound, then they will stand on their own before peer reviewed criticism in a reputable journal.
    He didn’t do this though… he presented his ideas in a book “Heaven and Earth” where his ideas are presented to lay people like ourselves who have little to no access to real data to refute his claims. Call me cynical, but it smells to me like he’s either out to make a buck from the easily led, or wishes to effect politics for the benefit of the industry he’s spent his life working with. From this perspective, not entirely noble. Dr Karl on the other hand, who is pretty much a “celebrity scientist”, is not a climate scientist, and would never claim to be. His honest attitude to the search for truth and his ability to recognise when he’s wrong… I would trust him well sooner than Mr Pilmer.
    Anyway, good luck to you MICHAEL.

    @2DOGS
    Agreed!… History class, apparently there’s a few people who missed that one at school…

  • 17
    Darren Lewin-Hill
    Posted Sunday, 9 May 2010 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    I thought I’d offer a response to some of the comments people have left on this story. A longer version of the story and some additional comments are also available at Northcote Independent.

    First of all, as one comment suggested, I’d love to be able to offer a transcript of the interview, but I can’t imagine there was ever any prospect of a recording being allowed - or of a frank discussion on Ferguson’s part if it had been. Of course, if Ferguson has any argument with anything I’ve said here or at Northcote Independent, he’s either silent or letting others do the talking for him. He certainly knows about the piece, I can assure you.

    On the Hansen supporting nuclear comment (and why did I only mention his views on coal), I did actually think about that while writing the piece. I guess his support for nuclear power really isn’t any part of why he’s right about climate change and the contribution of coal and other fossil fuels to the problem.

    Barry Brook is another example of someone who is very strong on climate science but supports nuclear. Because I disagree with Hansen and Brook (and agree with Al Gore) on the nuclear issue, I don’t think Ferguson is any part of the solution. There are just too many problems with proliferation, the risk of accident and waste - and too many sound alternatives - to think about nuclear energy as a (radioactive) silver bullet.

    I suspect that, for Ferguson, a similar principle applies to uranium as with coal: it appears unthinkable for him to adopt any solution that entails not cashing in on a mineral resource. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground isn’t destroying industry and jobs etc. as some commenters suggested, it’s the action needed to avoid catastrophic climate impacts and the far greater economic costs of ‘adapting’ to them (we can’t) rather than preventing them from happening in the first place.

    The volcano argument - why bother about human causes when a bloody big volcano has erupted - I think is a red herring. Even if there were a net contribution from the eruption not ‘offset’ by the reduction in emissions from flights (and it appears there isn’t), would that really justify us continuing to increase our own massive emissions, or argue even more strongly to reduce them?

    The answer is pretty clear, in my view. It’s an interesting example of the opportunism of climate denialism - unfortunately, there are millions of man-made carbon dioxide volcanoes all over the planet that we call coal-fired power stations, oil-fuelled transport etc. etc. that we can do something about and really should.

    Commenter Michael James I think is clearly wrong that we climate campaigners brought nothing to the table in meeting with Ferguson. If Ferguson and other politicians listened to the climate movement, we would stand a much better chance of avoiding the worst climate impacts - pretty tangible, I’d say.

    The claim that renewables can’t provide baseload is the old argument Ferguson likes to trot out, but it’s dead in the water. A combination of renewables connected via a smart grid can readily supply baseload power. In fact Beyond Zero Emissions has a Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Project to prove it. They say a 60/40 solar/wind mix will do it, creating thousands of jobs in the process.

    Finally, one commenter still bothered to quote Plimer. I thought the excellent John van Tiggelen piece in The Age Good Weekend magazine a while back would have put a stop to that.

    There’s very little doubt that we’re markedly warming the planet because of our greenhouse gas contributions, despite their small percentage of the atmosphere’s composition. To say there’s so much more carbon trapped within the earth only supports urgent climate action. The carbon stored in the earth is naturally sequestered there, but we are releasing it and unleashing its warming effects through mining and burning fossil fuels, warming the frozen tundra that releases methane etc. etc. Our aim must be not to release carbon that is already stored safely, and to draw down the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere.

    Hansen, Gore, Four Corners and many other reputable sources have shown that the artificial (and unproven at scale) process of carbon capture and storage is not the way to do it - especially when the renewable options are abundant, especially in Australia.

    What do you say, Martin? Anything at all?

  • 18
    kuke
    Posted Sunday, 9 May 2010 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    With Big Coal Batman (Fergi), Bob Carr’s rant in the Australian yesterday and Tanner tanning asses, you’d swear The Greens are the Demons of AGW (DAWG). Speaking of fallen Angles, I’d vote for Pauline if she mandated a Garnaut carbon tax - it’s not a Green policy you foolz.

    I don’t care about picking winners - nuke, geo et al - I just want to punish losers and I’m looking right at you Hazelwood!!!

  • 19
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Monday, 10 May 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Proliferation? Pffft. No one who is even half serious about building a nuclear weapon is going to be put off by an absence of Australian nuclear power generation.

    Waste? Generation IV nuclear reactors will consume most of it. What little is left after that is nothing that 4 km-deep holes in the most stable continental crust on Earth can’t handle.

    And I cannot fathom the thinking of anyone who is quite happy to risk hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars on a series of heroic scale assumptions, yet apparently bases their out-of-hand dismissal of nuclear power on an accident risk problem that has been solved.

  • 20
    Eponymous
    Posted Monday, 10 May 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Do you recognise at least a little irony in your post Mark? You use the ‘drug dealer’s’ argument about nuclear material (if we don’t sell/have it, someone else will) then accuse renewables advocates of ‘heroic assumptions’. In the same post, you ask other’s to support a technology that is not at demonstration scale anywhere and has actually HAD accidents; despite consistent bald-faced claims that they are ‘designed to be safe’. I speak of course of the much fabled Fast-breeder technology and the recent re-opening of the Monju reactor, that closed 14 years ago due to fire: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8664005.stm

    So, it’s heroic to assume that technology that exists at demonstration scale will ever work, yet it is common sense to assume that technology that has been demonstrated not to be accident free will be safe, that the waste issue will be solved by digging 4km holes and that we should become a nuclear materials producer because everyone else is doing it?

  • 21
    kuke
    Posted Monday, 10 May 2010 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Totally agree Mark, it’s baffling that Clinton and Gore canned the IFR program - but by the same token, we shouldn’t can solar thermal research (nor expensive Fusion research for that matter).

    Dr Barry Brook at the University of Adelaide addresses some of the FoE concerns about IFRs here:

    Response to an Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) critique

    I would point out this article though:

    Nuclear not the cheapest path for Australia: OECD

    Ultimately we don’t need to pick a winner, we just need a polluter-pays model and let the market decide.

  • 22
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Monday, 10 May 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Interesting you should draw the drug parallel, Eponymous. In the part of the world where I live, growing poppies for use in legitimate drug manufacture is a multimillion dollar industry. Needless to say, every step of the process from growth through harvesting and processing to final product is strictly policed. There have never been any illegitimate diversions from this supply chain, to the best of my knowledge. If the opium industry can do it, why not the nuclear?

    Yes, Monju (not a true Gen IV IFR, but anyway) had an accident, one that has no doubt been learned from in design engineering terms. So what? No radiation was released, because the core was not breached. This is what the ‘designed to be safe’ claim of Gen IV/IFRs relates to.

    Ultimately we don’t need to pick a winner, we just need a polluter-pays model and let the market decide.

    Surely that’s something we can all agree on. Though I wonder about Mr Lewin-Hill.

  • 23
    Darren Lewin-Hill
    Posted Monday, 10 May 2010 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Mr Lewin-Hill apologises for the lateness of his reply, but will have to differ. In my view, Dr Jim Green makes a very strong case re peaceful nuclear power and proliferation risk in his recent piece for New Matilda. Dr Green even talks about opium poppies, Mark.

    The unfortunate upshot is that even peaceful nuclear programs are associated with proliferation, as Gore has also noted in a quote in the article. And, yes, I’m willing to risk all that money from uranium sales to address the multi-dimensional nuclear risk that you dismiss.

    Nuclear power will remain too slow, dirty and dangerous (as Prof. Ian Lowe has noted) to be be any answer to climate change - especially when a combination of renewables can do the job. Their benefit, in addition to their very low carbon intensity, is that if you spill them it’s no big deal.

    In contrast, look what’s been happening with oil here (West Atlas) and overseas (US Gulf Coast), and with coal regarding the environmental effects of mining most recently detailed in the Four Corners program on the Hunter Valley. That’s aside from their massive carbon intensity. Add uranium to that mix, and it’s a pretty frightening scenario. Accident, nuclear terrorism, environmental damage from mining - it’s a very tall order to cover all those bases, Mark.

    Finally, I’ll never forget a photo my father brought back from Hiroshima, which he visited about a year after the bomb was dropped. It showed the image of a person burnt into the steps of a ruined building. Dirty bomb, suit-case nuke, or military weapon, we just can’t risk it for the sake of mining profits.

  • 24
    Jim Green
    Posted Monday, 10 May 2010 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    A useful newish report …
    Australian Sustainable Energy – by the numbers
    (based on Sustainable Energy – without the hot air, by David J.C. MacKay, FRS)
    by Peter Seligman
    Melbourne Energy Institute, University of Melbourne
    February 17, 2010

    Download from:
    http://energy.unimelb.edu.au/ozsebtn
    or direct download:
    http://energy.unimelb.edu.au/uploads/Australian_Sustainable_Energy-by_the_numbers.pdf

    Conclusions
    1. In theory, Australia could comfortably supply all of its power requirements renewably.
    2. In practice, for some interim period, the use of some non-renewable sources may be necessary but the overall carbon footprint can be reduced to zero in time.
    3. The major contributors would be geothermal, wind and solar power.
    4. To match the varying load and supply, electricity could be stored using pumped hydro, as it is at present on a much smaller scale. In this case, seawater could be used, in large cliff-top ponds.
    5. Energy efficiency would be a key aspect of the solution.
    6. A comprehensive modelling approach could be used to minimise the cost rather than the current piecemeal, politically based, ad hoc system.
    7. Private transport and other fuel based transport could be largely electrified and batteries could be used to assist with storage.
    8. In a transition period, liquid fuel based transport could be accommodated by using biofuels produced using CO2 from any remaining fossil fuelled power sources and CO2 generating industries.

  • 25
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Monday, 10 May 2010 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    That’s very impressive, Darren, managing to lump nuclear power together with not just Hiroshima, but coal and oil as well, in the space of two short paragraphs. Gee, we wouldn’t want to get too emotive about all this, would we? Sheesh.

    Nuclear power will remain too slow…

    Given $367,000,000,000 (as per the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Project) and a reasonable regulatory regime, I rather think we actually could persuade and/or train sufficient nuclear engineering capacity to do the business for us in ten years.

    You mention ‘environmental damage from mining’ a couple of times. Bad news, Darren: megawatt for megawatt, the solar thermal installations that are the mainstay of ZCA2020 require
    - 15 times more concrete (sand, limestone, coal)
    - 75 times more steel (iron ore, coal)
    and 2,530 times more land than nuclear reactors of equivalent capacity. That’s not even accounting for the millions of tonnes of glass (more sand mining and refining energy) needed for the ZCA2020 solar thermal installations. And ‘large cliff-top ponds’ for pumped hydro storage as well, ye gods. The amount of rock that needs to be shifted to extract uranium is piddling in comparison. Indeed, for Generation IV integral fast reactors, we don’t need to mine any more uranium at all.

  • 26
    Darren Lewin-Hill
    Posted Tuesday, 11 May 2010 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the info on renewables, Jim.

    Mark, I think you have to distinguish between arguments that merely appeal to emotions and those which evoke strong emotional reactions - for example, to environmental destruction and loss of human life - that are based on facts. You may prefer that I refrain from discussing the human consequences of the use of fossil fuels and uranium, but we can’t be guided just by mining profits.

    Re the environmental impact of renewables versus fossil fuels and nuclear, there are many dimensions including mining, construction and operation. Have a look at Four Corners on coal-mining in the Hunter Valley (link in story), or mountain-top coal-mining in the United States.

    Consider not only the carbon-intensity of fossil fuels, but the other pollution resulting from their use.

    Uranium, as mentioned above, has a raft of its own unresolved issues, and it’s not really a stretch from its mining to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Have a look at Securing the Bomb 2010, a disturbing April 2010 report by Matthew Bunn of the Belfer Centre of the Harvard Kennedy School. For example:

    Numerous studies by the U.S. and other governments have concluded that it is plausible that a sophisticated terrorist group could make a crude nuclear bomb if it got enough of the needed nuclear materials.

    There have been over 18 documented cases of theft or loss of plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU), the essential ingredients of nuclear weapons.

    Ignoring such threats is a dangerous convenience for our profit-hungry mining companies.

  • 27
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Tuesday, 11 May 2010 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    …renewables versus fossil fuels and nuclear…

    Why do you persist in attempting to frame the debate in these spurious terms? So you can make irrelevant points about coal mining? Once might have been inadvertent, twice looks like sophistry.

    For a more dispassionate take on the proliferation issue, see here.

  • 28
    Darren Lewin-Hill
    Posted Tuesday, 11 May 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi again, Mark. The article is about energy generally - not just uranium. In fact, coal was much more a topic of discussion at the meeting than uranium. It seems the emphasis has changed through the discussion. It’s hard to see what’s “spurious” about my “framing”, as you don’t seem to offer arguments to support your claims. I’ll leave if for readers to decide on the basis of what I’ve written, and the further sources I’ve linked to.

  • 29
    kuke
    Posted Tuesday, 11 May 2010 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    Coal’s the third word of your article title, so it’s relevant. I like the ABC mantra: Anything But Coal, so I’m open to nuke research, especially fusion, but I don’t like today’s reactors.

    I trust this is relevant: King Coal by Guy Pearse.

    In Canberra, Kevin Rudd calls the coal industry “the backbone of regional Australia”. His resources minister, Martin Ferguson, regards new coal-fired power stations as inevitable and warns against holding back coal export growth. With the explicit aim of doubling exports, federal environmental approval and billions of dollars in subsidies are being given to expand port, rail and road infrastructure. And billions more are propping up pilot projects to help maintain the illusion that ‘carbon capture and storage’ might clean up Australia’s coal industry.”

  • 30
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Wednesday, 12 May 2010 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Darren, I took exception to your apparent lumping of fossil fuels with nuclear. Phrase it as “renewables and nuclear versus fossil fuels”, or “fossil fuels versus renewables versus nuclear” if you must, and I’m happy. ABC indeed.

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