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Keeping you informed about TecEco sustainability projects. Issue 80, July 2008
In the lead up to and after the Australian government release of their green paper on carbon trading on the 16th July 2008 there has been much media attention.
Already the big energy players are holding up their hands threatening that projects will not go ahead unless they get their way and on all accounts it seems as though the government will succumb to the lowest common denominator populism of the previous coalition government.
This resistance is the result of an approach that considers only targets and who will bear the cost. What is required are new technology platforms to solve the problem by action.
Now more that ever we need policies that will assist in the systematic role out of green technologies such as our Gaia Engineering. The last six month has shown that global economies are far too fragile for anything else. See The Argument for Man Made Carbonate story below.
Perhaps the most revealing recent comment on the Government´s approach to climate politics was from the Prime Minister. On The 7.30 Report he dismissed criticism that the emissions trading scheme makes too many concessions to the big polluters by saying that the Government was being attacked from both the left and the right but would pursue a balanced position.
If Mr Rudd believes science that demands urgent action lies "on the left", he has adopted the denialist viewpoint that science is political and therefore open to selective use.
The Green Paper confirms that the Rudd Government does not really get climate change, neither its urgency nor its seriousness. Any form of compensation or concession for coal-fired generators-- who have for a decade willfully failed to adjust to the inevitable-- is ethically indefensible.
More importantly, the proposals for compensation will fatally undermine the effectiveness of the system by removing the incentive for behavioural change. It is plain from reading the Green Paper´s Chapter 10 that the Government has been completely snowed by the arguments and threats of the generators.
It´s an extended apologia for a forthcoming act of political capitulation and should be marked down as another huge victory for the greenhouse mafia in Canberra.
It is tautologous to say that all structural change means job losses. If jobs are not being lost in the domestic polluting industries then the ETS is not working; the whole point is to reduce investment in polluting industries and stimulate investment in the alternatives, which should lead to more and better jobs.
The Government´s political strategy seems to be to make vague promises that it will get tough later. It is hoping there will be a better time to introduce a policy that works, and in the meantime do something that has only the appearance of action.
The Government was elected on a wave of community alarm about climate change, so what is the Government hoping will happen over the next three to five years to make it easier to get tough?
Is it hoping that the coal-fired generators will suddenly become altruistic and do the right thing, directing their investments into low-emission sources? Why would they? Rent-seeking and heavy lobbying has worked so far, why wouldn't´t it work again?
Is it hoping that the white knight of carbon capture and storage will save the day? Even the Government knows that there are a good five election cycles before that could happen.
Is it hoping that the effects of climate change will become so severe that all opposition will fall away? That would be stretching cynicism too far.
The Government´s stance presents the Greens´ senators with a dilemma. They will try to amend the ETS legislation in the Senate, but will be unsuccessful. So do they vote for a scheme that will have virtually no impact on Australia´s greenhouse gas emissions for several years, and hope that the Government will subsequently find some backbone?
Or do they vote it down to highlight its failures? Given that the polluters have got everything they wanted, they will be lobbying the Coalition to let the legislation pass, so in the end the votes of the Greens´ senators may not count.
Recently Professors Ross Garnaut, Warwick McKibbin as well as parliamentarians Christine Milne and Craig Emerson have been in the media and they were all right about something. The need is however to get it together and solve the problem.
Prof. Ross Garnaut is right about the urgency of the global warming problem and need for a strong response.
He is right to say that so-called clean coal technology was "yet to be proven" and when he recently queried "whether the nation could find a way to make so-called "clean coal" technology a reality. http://www.canberratimes.com.au/news/national/national/general/garnaut-speaks-out/809852.aspx. He is right about the need to support R & D in a wide range of industries - not just the coal industry
I think he is wrong in that he does not advocate a long term credible price for carbon and about his softly goes approach with the introduction of carbon trading. With the imprimatur attached to a long term credible price carbon banks and the market can smooth the transitions and encourage the rapid development of green industry
What's missing includes commentary on a wide range of support policies including procurement of green technology.
Prof Warwick McKibbin argues that targets and timetables lead to confrontation and his is right about this and that there must be a long term credible price for carbon to give it the required imprimatur to be dealt with confidently in financial markets preferably on a global scale.
I think that if companies have confidence in the long term future price of carbon then they will make the right business decisions to change the technology platforms by which they operate in favour of being much less carbon intensive. Prof McKibbin also recognises that there must be massive technical change.
McKibbin also emphasises that China and India are rapidly becoming developed and that the replacement for Kyoto must recognise the ascendancy of these and other countries.
McKibbin may be wrong however if he thinks the market is the only mechanism that can resolve the reallocation of resources. Although market should be allowed to work their magic to transform our global economy there must be a holistic approach whereby market mechanisms are supported by government policy at all levels.
The problem of the internalisation of externalities like CO2 emissions has been unresolved for thousands of years. I therefore think a totally holistic approach that involves a wide range of policy tools as well as carbon trading such as education, procurement etc. is essential.
Christine Milne is to be admired for her enthusiasm about Green change
We agree with her that "there are enormous opportunities in moving to a low carbon economy" http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2007/s1904786.htm
Unfortunately there appears to be a lack of detail when it comes the technical platforms and financial nitty gritty and therefore room for considerable doubt about whether base load shortages can be overcome.
Craig Emerson appears to be stuck on the problem of base load generation, however is to be admired for his enthusiasm for geothermal power. Unfortunately he still seems to think that coal is the only answer to our energy needs and that geosequestration will result in so called clean coal.
What Craig and just about everybody else seem to be missing is that there are other solutions to the base load problem which have sadly not so far attracted much in the way of private enterprise and government R & D dollars or attention .
Pivotal to solving the problem of the intermittency of energy from solar and wind and other non fossil fuel or nuclear energy sources are the development of highly efficient storage and transmission solutions. The labour party should be supporting the development of these technologies, not pouring money into geosequestration which will end up out pricing coal anyway.
Former US Vice President Al Gore, seeking to shake up an energy debate that is focused mostly on drilling, on the 18th July issued a challenge to the United States to shift its entire electricity sector to carbon-free wind, solar and geothermal power within 10 years, and use that power to fuel a new fleet of electric vehicles. Importantly Senator Obama was quick to concur with Al Gore's call saying that "It's a strategy that will create millions of new jobs that pay well and cannot be outsourced, and one that will leave our children a world that is cleaner and safer"
Much as we think all this very admirable it will not solve the problem of the CO2 we have already put into the air. To remove this profitably we need Gaia Engineering
The recent release of a CSIRO report that suggested petrol would be $8 in 10 years (http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,24003141-5001021,00.html) should serve as a hint to both governments and private enterprise that they need to rapidly change their thinking. Also missing in the argument of any of the above commentators is the very powerful procurement tool of governments to with R & D drive technology in the right direction.
Even if all emissions stopped right away we are in for several centuries of dramatically altered climate as the half life of CO2 is several decades. (Around 30-50 years depending on whose paper you read) What if a technology could be found that profitably converts CO2 to carbonate without having to quarry and transport other minerals and that produced other useful by products such as fresh water?
We are going around in circles and desperately need a solution to our CO2 and other environmental problems. We need to find a way of getting the gas out of the air and undoing the damage we have already done.
I was listening to Professor Garnaut in the Australian parliament last week and was enthused by his grip on the urgency of the climate change problem. I agree with senator Milne when she said "Professor Garnaut has come a long way in a short period of time with the complex science of climate change" Unfortunately the good professor still has a long way still to go. I am particularly concerned that he does not have a viable technical strategy to his plan, the lack of other policies such as on procurement and R & D and with his short term view on carbon pricing.
I have attempted to contact him as I have many other leaders because I have high hopes that Australia can lead the world away from the sure catastrophe we are heading for if climate and other global systems continue to break down as they slowly and surely are. I am hoping that readers will see the merit in my arguments and help me convince governments of the way forward that I am proposing.
We already have global oil and food shortages, a dangerous climate problem and a rapidly rising number of failing states. Much life on earth has been wiped out by our activities. What will happen when the Chinese, Indians and people of some other countries reach our level of affluence? A western economic physical economic model is not going to work for China or the rest of the developing world without massive environmental costs.
The Kyoto treaty was the result of political negotiation and diplomatic compromise and on the surface not a lot more than short term promises to reduce emissions that made politicians look good, but that their successors cannot possibly keep. It does however provide a useful forum for negotiation regarding its all important successor treaty.
Emissions constraint is the main but a blunt tool that has emerged as result of Kyoto that will not work without crippling world economies which will be shaky enough in the coming years as peak oil passes. There are a number of reasons; paramount amongst them quite simply that around 95% of the world's energy still comes from fossil fuels and population growth has been far greater than the achievement of thermodynamic efficiencies which are also becoming increasingly costly. The emissions from oil will to some extent look after themselves as in ten years time this fuel is likely to be four or five times the price. Alternatives like guanidine will have to be developed (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guanidine) with much lower releases.
We will not solve the problem Kyoto style by promising each other to reduce emissions.Real as well as legal economic drivers are required. Constraint is desirable but will not work alone. Many developing nations are entitled to and some are rapidly achieving the level of affluence we have. Even with Kyoto are emissions are tracking on all worst case scenarios and we are probably only a decade left to turn dramatically reduce emissions. The rising demand on global resources as this occurs is alarming and there must be another smarter way forward to solve the crisis.
It is wrong to restrict affluence if for no other reason than it is likely to bring reductions in population growth. The strategy plan must therefore include means whereby rapidly developing countries can achieve affluence without the same per capita carbon cost and environmental impacts that we have incurred in achieving our standard of living. Affluence must not be at the cost of the Amazon and most other species on earth. Rather than promises there must be a plan to take us into the long term future that takes into account the way we are - turning greed and selfishness which are currently a major impediment into a driving force for solving the carbon problem and a myriad of other environmental problems. Put simply the solutions must be profitable.
The key lies in the technology platform which governs the physical interface of the economy (I call this the techno process) and this is because the underlying and when out of balance, damaging molecular flow is determined by it. The technical paradigm defines what is or is not a resource. Resource flows result in molecular flows such as emissions. The molecular flows underlying the techno-process are causing the many environmental problems we have. The key is therefore to change the technical paradigms. By doing so ways of solving the world's environmental problems without crippling national or global economies can become profitable and thus utilised. Many now agree that technology is the key. (e.g. World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the International Chamber of Commerce Communiqué from Bali http://www.tececo.com/files/newsletters/Newsletter75.htm) and serious consideration of possible technology platforms without influence from lobbyists is essential in the all important replacement treaty for Kyoto.
Given this recognition - even by Prof Ross Garnaut here in Australia - what really concerns me is the direction technology strategies are taking around the world to solve the global warming problem and the lack of funding because of their long (but increasingly shortening) term benefit. I am even more concerned about the direction Australia is heading. Those in power seem to be believing without question what they have heard from the very powerful oil and coal lobby. Our country is in danger of being lead into the same geosequestration trap also pursued by many other countries. It is time to put money into alternatives such as solving transmission and storage issues with intermittent non fossil fuel energy and our man made carbonate sequestration solution to get the CO2 we have already put in the atmosphere back out again.
Not only will geosequestration pushed by the fossil fuel lobbyists not work, it will render fossil fuels increasingly costly to produce. At the same time the oil that remains is becoming increasingly difficult to extract and therefore is rapidly becoming more costly for this reason and because production is not meeting demand. There must therefore be other alternatives to the plan including substitution of energy sources and sequestration on a massive scale other than geosequestration.
Geosequestration may work for 50 or perhaps even 100 years. It is important when considering policies for today to back cast from a long way into the future so that urgency does not cloud our thinking. Taking this approach in relation to geosequestration there will be some leakage given the nature of the crust, even if on average very small. If very modest leakage is assumed eventually it will not be possible to put enough CO2 underground to match what is leaking back out again depending on the leakage assumed.. I have written about this in our political analysis (http://www.tececo.com/politics.analysis.php) and economics section on our web site (http://www.tececo.com/economics.summary.php). It should also be noted that the cost of geosequestration will probably cause fossil fuels to be priced out of the market.
As an economist I believe that economics is a window of human nature. The profit motive drives most of us and for many stressed for money = survival. Goodwill or altruism will not solve the problem, only profit will as most people do not actually care or are too stressed by money to allocate finance other than on a profitable basis.The solution therefore has to be profitable Current strategies if you could call them that do not seem to take into account human nature and will thus mostly fail because they are not profitable. Adding the cost of geosequestration to fossil fuel will not be profitable whereas substitution by alternatives and massive sequestration by making composites made of man made carbonate and various wastes for building and construction are potentially very profitable. Prof. Warwick McKibbin seems to have the view that provided there is a firm long term price for carbon markets can work their magic and solve the problem. I agree to some extent provided they are support by government policy in every other way.
The Germans and some Scandinavian countries have realised that green is profitable and much of the German grid is now supplied by solar. There is ample proof that change can be profitable yet cost/compensation still seems to pervade most reports including the Christopher Stern and Ross Garnaut reports. There could be a green collar revolution that will rebuild Australia’s manufacturing sector but it needs to be supported by a technology vision such as our Gaia Engineering and a raft of other policies including a strong emphasis on R & D and procurement.
Our climate scientists tell us that emissions reduction is too late anyway. Even if all emissions stopped tomorrow the process of change we have already started will take at least 500 years to work out. It follows that we must find a way of getting the CO2 out of the air quickly. Geosequestration will not be profitable, can never be safe and even with very low assumed leakage rates will be rendered useless within a hundred years or so. Even at the low range costs quoted to date it will cause havoc in markets unless there are alternatives such as cheap solar electricity to charge electric cars. The required sequestration can only be achieved on the scale required if the process of doing so makes money and as a consequence of this a large number of people undertake the required actions.
A means of profitably utilising all the carbon dioxide we emit now and for ever is required. This is not to say that I do not advocate constraint and substitution away from fossil fuels. Of course I do. It is just that these strategies will not get us there alone whereas combined with sequestration on a massive scale in buildings and other structures we can solve the problem profitably and easily.
If one were to look at human activities from a satellite one would conclude that what we do is build things. An intelligent alien would question why we do not build with carbon whereas all other life on the planet does. The key to their survival is to profitably build with carbon and we must mimic this process. Our solution involves biomimicry in this way and can deliver the required sequestration.
Our solution uniquely involves anthropogenic sequestration using man made carbonates, is potentially very profitable, easily implemented and based on uniquely simple concepts. My company TecEco is Australian and driven by altruism as well as the need for economic survival. With our technology Australia could lead the world and save civilisation from as Jim Hansen put it recently "a "perfect storm", a global cataclysm".
We call our technology platform Gaia Engineering and it involves the production of man made carbonate from seawater, brine or bitterns, produces fresh water and other valuable minerals as bi-products and results in massive sequestration mainly as building products in large, insatiable markets.
There are no downsides to our unique technology platform and that it works is not beyond imagination. There are structures made of limestone around that have survived for thousands of years. The only real difference between these structures and the way we will build is that the carbonate will be man made using both the calcium and magnesium cations found in seawater, bitterns or brine. Our grand plan is to mimic nature in the production of carbonate using sources of magnesium and to some extent calcium that are available in every country on the planet in excess.
Out technology would give governments a very powerful tool to solve the climate problem as all they have to do is require a proportion of all building and construction to be man made carbonate.
Our modeling indicates with a 15 year phase in and 40% of all building and construction compulsorily made of man made carbonate the climate change problem would start being reversed by earlier than 2025. It is my hope that in time our Gaia Engineering technologies will be superceded by better more efficient and profitable platforms and I have a number in the back of my mind. All we need is funding.
This wonderful solution is achievable. It can provide the technology platform for survival. As Fred Pearce in New Scientist Magazine said not so many years ago "THERE is a way to make our city streets as green as the Amazon rainforest. Almost every aspect of the built environment, from bridges to factories to tower blocks, and from roads to sea walls, could be turned into structures that soak up carbon dioxide- the main greenhouse gas behind global warming. All we need to do is change the way we make cement."