Dear editor . . .

One way of keeping climate change in the news, and fostering informed discussion about current issues, is by writing letters to the paper. Members of CCBR do so regularly - some occasionally get published.

2018

Dec 9: To The SMH re awarding of a contract to rebuild the Allianz Stadium

The CO2 emissions of steel and concrete production, not to mention truck movements, are frightening. The construction sector makes up over 18 per cent of Australia's carbon footprint.

At a time when Australia is attracting international criticism for its failure to adequately act on climate change, we should cancel contracts for the new stadium.

While we improve our building practices and materials, let's save our emissions for buildings we actually need. - Angela Michaelis, Balmain.

Dec 4: To The Aus Fin Review re Adani's Carmichael mine

As a volunteer climate activist, I can assure Lucas Dow ("End the myths and welcome the reality of Carmichael mine", 3/12/2018) that it's not just the Adani mine. I oppose any new coal mine in Australia. Adani just had the bad luck to propose the biggest in the Southern hemisphere.

Due partly to activism, and partly to wise financial decisions not to back it with funding, Adani has now had to scale back. But it still represents the first mine in the previously untouched Galilee Basin.

The one environmental approval that the Adani mine has not had to face is the vital one of how much its product (and the process of extraction) will contribute to carbon emissions. Currently the world has enough coal already in production that, if burnt, would tip us over 2 degrees C of global warming. Adani's full capacity of 2.3 billion tonnes of coal can produce 7.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, a cost thinking Australians cannot accept.

Yes, we need more jobs in Queensland, and elsewhere. But they should be jobs with a future, and encouraging workers to think that is in coal mining is to put our heads in the sand. Let's instead put our efforts into a just transition for those workers in the industry, into training for 21st century jobs, and into construction projects that benefit Queenslanders, not billionaire mine owners.

Dec 3: To The Canberra Times re the non-burden of renewable energy schemes

 

Katie Burgess (Dec 3) cites a report that the ACT's renewable energy and efficiency schemes added $72 to the average electricity bill.  It arrives at this by simply adding up what the ACT government has spent on these schemes.  

 

That analysis does not take into account that the addition of renewable energy has depressed the average price of power generation.
Rooftop solar has trimmed the annual peak demand.  This significantly cuts the summer wholesale price spikes and reduces the need for grid upgrades.  Reduced demand resulting from the efficiency programme will have also held the price down.
In order to determine the net effect on power bills, one would have to model what the price of power would have been without these schemes.  In NSW, rooftop solar has lowered the average bill.

Dec 2: To The Daily Tele re Brain Training

 

Peta Credlin (1st Dec) assumes school students' concern over climate change can only be a result of "brainwashing" by teachers.  

 

Good teachers encourage an appreciation of science and scientific method.  Perhaps that has resulted in students trusting the overwhelming consensus of the international scientific community that far more urgent action is needed.
If that's brainwashing, we need a lot more of it.

Dec 1: To The SMH re the lethal indirect impacts of Adani on The Reef

You report Environment Minister Melissa Price as arguing that the Adani mine would have "no direct impacts" on the Great Barrier Reef. When the impact is likely to be lethal, the directness is moot.

Dec 1: To The Daily Tele re the lame "we only emit 1.8%" excuse

Your correspondent Satya Marar trots out the feeble excuse that Australia only directly accounts for 1.8% of greenhouse emissions. By the same logic, a taxpayer could argue that there is no point in their paying tax since it would only be 0.0001% of the total tax take.

To gauge the relevance of that 1.8%, we can divide the world notionally into 300 countries of 25 million each. The average of these would account for only 0.3% of total emissions, and make Australia the highest emitter by some margin.

Further, the 1.8% does not include twice that from our coal exports. While not covered by our Paris commitment, they do constitute "contributory negligence". Beyond that, by taking on a fair share of action, Australia could be a credible voice in the global discussion, helping other countries reduce their own emissions.

It is not as though this is some kind of foreign aid with no return for Australia. Even the 2C warming once considered tolerable is likely to wipe out the Great Barrier Reef and expose us to floods and bushfire seasons never before experienced.

Nov 29: To The SMH re PM's advice to striking schoolkids

The Prime Minister wants striking schoolchildren to leave mending the climate to the grown ups.  Not sure whom he has in mind.

Oct 23: To The Oz re Nuclear power cost

In the debate The Australian calls for over nuclear power (Editorial, Oct 21), the economics may be hard to pin down.  

Nobody seems to know what the the premiums would be for adequate liability cover on the open market because all governments indemnify the operator or offer cheap rates.
Supporters of nuclear power make decommissioning costs disappear by applying the same discount rate as for expected earnings. That is an accounting solecism. The sinking fund to cover decommissioning would have to be invested at low risk.

  Aug: To The SMH; Our emissions are rising, at a canter

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says that people "choose and pick their figures to make a political argument" (ABC Insiders, last Sunday). He sets a perfect example when he boasts that per capita greenhouse gas emissions are the lowest in 28 years, and we are on track to meet our Paris commitment "at a canter".

But per capita emissions mean nothing to the atmosphere. 540 Million tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere have the same effect on global warming, however many people are responsible for it. It's total emissions that we need to deal with. And total emissions, which is what our Paris commitment is about, have been rising steadily since early 2014 - the entire term of the Abbott - Turnbull - Morrison governments. Our Paris target is getting further away. The PM's talk of canter is pure cant and hypocrisy.

 Aug : To The SMH re Energy Minister's ideology

The new Energy Minister Angus Taylor has pointedly dropped any mention of emissions reduction from the government's energy policy.

This is a serious omission: most Australians now recognise that the changing climate is not just a future threat but a present reality that must be urgently addressed. Australia has among the highest per capita emissions in the world, and with abundant renewable energy sources is in an ideal position to take effective action.

Instead of falsely blaming rising prices on "ideological objectives", he should recognise that new, renewable sources of electricity are now significantly cheaper than aging fossil fuel sources. In fact, if there are any ideological objectives to be identified, they lie in his grievous omission of this aspect of energy policy. 

Aug 27: To The SMH re Feds forcing States to frack

Our new PM has renewed his threat to withhold GST revenue from States that do not maximise their income - specifically, by banning fracking. But the logic only works if the full costs and benefits are taken into account.  States should require bonds to be lodged sufficient for complete rehabilitation.  Too often, the taxpayer has been left to pick up the bill.  
Although it's way beyond what the States require now, the risk to water tables makes fracking particularly worrisome, so it would be an entirely reasonable measure, and very likely to make it uneconomic. 

Aug 19: to The Canberra Times re technological neutrality and the NEG

Stephen Galilee (18 Aug) calls for a technologically neutral solution to grid security, avoiding ideological preferences.  Unfortunately there can be different opinions on what is neutral and what ideology.

The Energy Security Board goes part way to specifying the solution to grid reliability - every generator must have contractual back-up.  That is not the only way to ensure enough total generation to meet a given demand.  Further, it ignores, for now, demand management solutions and blackouts caused by distribution failures.  The ESB's solution favours traditional baseload, so despite the good intent, it is not technology neutral.

True neutrality would also add up the total cost of generation - including the direct health harms from pollution and longer term environmental costs - and balance all against the financial cost of the occasional outage.
Meanwhile, the dogged insistence by the right wing of the Coalition that coal has to be supported is pure ideology.  This even creeps into the article's quote from Josh Frydenberg, where he transmutes the ESB's caution against closing coal power stations prematurely into a mandate to keep them operational beyond economic sense. 

Aug 15: To The SMH re Sen Kelly's causality error

Craig Kelly observes that nations that have led the move to renewables tend to have dearer electricity.  Hardly surprising.  Not all nations have cheap and plentiful fossil fuels, so the switch to renewables made economic sense there first.

Did this help to hold down prices? It seems to have in South Australia. From 2006 to 2016 power expenditure rose 49% in SA in real terms, compared with 66%, 73%, and 87% in NSW, Victoria and Queensland respectively. 

Aug 8: To The Age re PM's claim the NEG will save $550 per household

Malcolm Turnbull accuses the Victorian government of denying households $550 a year in power savings by opposing the National Energy Guarantee in its present form.

According to the Energy Security Board, only $150 of that comes from the NEG itself; the other $400 will happen anyway as a result of new renewable energy generation already committed.

Besides, there is no reason to suppose that the changes the State government seeks would miss out on much, if any, of the extra $150.

Aug 7: To The Daily Telegraph re potential for NEG to save on bills 

Your faith that the NEG will make power cheap ("Greenies push Labor to keep power prices high") is misplaced.  
The board's own estimates are that most price easing will come from the renewables already to come online in the next few years.  The NEG is mostly geared to firming power production (not actually supply; it won't stop the distribution failures that cause most outages).  That, and an emissions cut target of only 26%, will inhibit further renewables that would bring power prices yet lower.
At the same time, with a national commitment of a 26% cut, only cutting 26% from electricity generation pushes the same burden onto sectors that will find it much harder. We will all pay for that in other ways.
And if the Coalition backbench succeeds in subsidising new coal power, that just shifts the impost from electricity bill to tax bill.

July 28: To The Canberra Times re fuel excise and electric vehicles

Eryk Bagshaw (27 July) describes fuel excise as "used to pay for roads", giving the impression that it represents a fair means of covering that cost.  This is not the case.

If charged in proportion to road damage, HGVs would pay $1.50/km but passenger vehicles only 0.05c/km, a ratio of 3000:1; yet HGVs enjoy an excise rebate! That would shift much freight to rail, significantly cutting the cost of road maintenance.

If we accept that passenger vehicles should continue to subsidise commerce so massively, we should at least consider all the public costs driving creates. The Department of Infrastructure estimates petrol and Diesel health harm from particulates and noxious gases at 10c/L. That is probably out of date, as more harms are discovered every year. Using the US Environmental Protection Agency's figure for the Social Cost of Carbon (i.e., climate damage) we can add another 12c/L.

True, an electric vehicle charged from the coal-fired grid of today also results in CO2, but that is not inherent in the vehicle, and would not apply to all. The way to make that fair is to reintroduce a price on carbon.

Besides, fuel excise only raises about half the revenue. The rest comes from rego, stamp duty, GST and tolls, all of which are charged equally on electric vehicles.

On balance, the charging split between petrol, Diesel and EVs is already about right.

July: To Anthony Albanese, seeking a clear statement of opposition to the Adani coalmine 

July: To SMH re Coalition's push to subsidise new coal:

Dear Prime Minister: do you have a mandate to use taxpayers' funds to build new coal-fired power stations (''PM backs cheaper power'', July 12)? Better check with us first. 

July: To SMH re ACCC's report calling for new "firm" power stations 

July: To SMH re Frydenberg's view of 26% Paris commitment:

I wondered how Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg could describe as ''ambitious'' Australia's Paris target to reduce our emissions by 26% by 2030 (''Barrier reef headed for 'collapse''', July 21-22). Then I realised he is 26% Minister for Environment and 74% Minister for Energy - and most of that is Minister for Fossil Fuels. 

July: To SMH re IPART's halving of Solar feed-in tariff 

June: To Josh Frydenberg re Adani attempt to avoid impact assessment on huge increase in water take

May: To SMH re Perrottet's "big Sydney" vision:

Your article ignores the elephant in the room: climate change. If Perrottet cares about the future for his children, reducing our emissions as well as adapting to our escalating climate emergency had better be on his agenda.

April: To SMH re Canavan's attack on lobbying by Green groups 

March: To The Oz re how domestic PV saves others more than the subsidies cost 

Jan: To The Oz re subsidising electric vehicles 

2017

Nov: To Chinese Ambassador and China Machinery Eng Corp (CMEC) re Adani finance 

Oct: Letter to the board of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund (NAIF)

Aug: Report to Albanese re poll on Adani mine:

In May, you mentioned to us that you heard less from members of the community about climate change than you had in the 2007-08 period.
We assured you that we would keep you in touch about what we heard, and we write now to let you know of the results from a survey we undertook during July in your electorate. The great majority of those surveyed were new to Climate Change Balmain-Rozelle, and have not written previously to you.
The issue was primarily the Adani mine, and we thought that you should know that of the 360 voters we spoke to, an overwhelming 97% were opposed to the coal mine, and 98% to the proposed $1 billion Naif loan.
Further, 97% told that they wanted their local politician - and this means you - to take a stand to stop the proposed Adani mine. Some said it was a significant voting point for them - others said simply that "in this day and age, supporting the mine is absolutely stupid".
These figures exceeded even the proportion (95%) that agreed with the statement "It's time to make the transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar".
These are views expressed by your constituents: and we are hearing very similar results from groups all around the country conducting similar surveys.
When we met, you told us how you stand keenly behind Labor's plans for renewable energy, and we are pleased that you again supported it recently when you spoke to Sky News.
But we are concerned that your voice has been silent on what else Australia must do to reduce not only our emissions, but those we might export. The Adani mine, like any new coal mine, cannot be part of the world's future, and we urge you to say so publicly.
We will continue to campaign on the Adani mine and on other climate issues in the lead-up to the next federal election. When that comes, we would love to be able to report that you are at the forefront of a strong Labor policy that truly addresses the urgent transition from fossil fuels.

Survey results 

MayTo The Oz, responding to a call for new coal fired power stations in NSW  

Feb: To SMH responding to four climate Furphies

FebTo SMH: Stop Westpac funding Adani coalmine 

FebTo SMH: Climate Security is paramount 

FebTo SMH re Scott Morrison's parliamentary stunt with coal lump 

JanTo SMH; If US backtracks from climate action we need to do more, not less

2016

NovTo SMH re Electric Vehicles and fuel excise 

Oct: To SMH re opinion piece blaming wind farms for SA power outage 

OctTo The Oz, on why international activism against Aussie coal is justified

Jul: To SMH: Canavan fails to understand risk management 

AprTo SMH re $7bn tax breaks to mining 

2015

Sep: To SMH; IPART undervalues PV feed-in by ignoring lowered peak demand 

Apr: To SMH; Gov't's ERF thinks 100 years is forever 

Apr: To SMH re Greg Hunt's flunked math