“Climate change is a powerful tiger to ride. The clever part is how to get off the tiger without being eaten,” wrote Dr Quentin Farmar-Bowers in a letter he sent on 23 October 2014 to the two Australian ministers who are in charge of the country’s agriculture and industry. Both farmers and manufacturers in the renewables sector face multi-million dollar losses linked to the damage caused by the government’s protection of it wealthy allies in the fossil fuel industry.
“How come tax payers subsidise the fuel that some industries use, how come people’s heath is damaged by pollution from coal, how come electricity infrastructure has a guaranteed return?”
Dr Quentin Farmar-Bowers
23 October 2014
The Hon Barnaby Joyce MP, Minister for Agriculture, and
The Hon Ian Macfarlane MP, Minister for Industry
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
I am writing to you both because your dreams of supporting the fossil fuel electricity industry and expanding agricultural exports are both admirable yet inversely related. You cannot get both.
Both fossil fuel burning and agricultural production are significant generators of CO2e. Although agriculture is currently mainly exempt from mitigation requirements, it is such a huge emitter of CO2e that its current near exempt status will not last forever.
Climate change is a powerful tiger to ride. The clever part is how to get off the tiger without being eaten.
1) Getting off the tiger to maintain the fossil fuel electricity industry means that some other part of the economy gets eaten; that is somebody / industry has to mitigate CO2e on behalf of the fossil fuel electricity industry.
- The most likely candidate to rescue fossil fuel electricity is the proposed agricultural expansion; because it has not got going yet so no jobs or investments will be lost. But it may require more than just shelving this agrarian dream, it may require a contraction of current levels of agricultural output by reducing land clearing, fertilizer use, irrigation and putting a proportion of existing arable land into permanent tree plantation to take up the CO2e from the coal/gas burning. It may also require demand management to change people’s diets.
- A less likely way of supporting fossil fuel electricity is moving very rapidly to clean coal. There are two clean brown coal commercial operations in North America (Canada and Missouri) that give an indication of the cost of the ‘capture’ part of clean coal at about $11 million a megawatt for 60 to 90 per cent of CO2 being burnt. The capital investment for clean coal would be substantial (perhaps more than $80 billion for Victoria alone) which means that other infrastructure projects (such as dam building) would be shelved for some years to come.
2) Getting off the tiger to expand agricultural exports will lead to some other parts of the economy being eaten; that is somebody / industry will have to increase their CO2e mitigation to compensate for the CO2e from agriculture. A doubling of agriculture exports would require an intensification of production, using irrigation and more fertilizer, more product storage and transport; all very high CO2e emission processes.
- The most likely candidate to rescue agricultural expansion is the reduction of fossil fuel electricity. Moving to renewable generation of electricity very quickly will allow room in the Australian carbon budgets for more agriculture CO2e emissions.
- A likely but less comfortable candidate to rescue agricultural expansion is to reduce manufacturing in Australia. Manufacturing is declining already and so its demand for fossil fuel and fossil fuel electricity is declining. To speed up this decline the government could stop supporting high energy industries such as metals (especially aluminium) cement, petrochemicals and food processing. The government could also reduce its support of the liquid fuels used the mining industry.
While I have used CO2e mitigation in this letter, I could have used other factors such as jobs, competitiveness, safety, health and national security. Or I could have addressed the issue of economic growth; the IMFs recent report suggests that taxing carbon would lead to more than 2 per cent growth.
Australians want a proper debate on these macro-economic issues and nowadays this means a systems thinking approach. Just working in isolation, one white paper or ministerial statement at a time is not going to cut it.
You both have very hard jobs but there are people who can provide the forward looking systems thinking approach you need to make the big decisions.
For agriculture I think this would take you into defining the role of agriculture to Australian society; how come there are so many malnourished Australians, how come Food Banks Australia has so many customers, how come poor diet is implicated in 56 per cent of all deaths in Australia?
For fossil fuel electricity I think this would also take you into defining the role of electricity to Australian society; how come tax payers subsidise the fuel that some industries use, how come people’s heath is damaged by pollution from coal, how come electricity infrastructure has a guaranteed return?
Dr Quentin Farmar-Bowers
Cc: Senator Wong, Mr Fitzgibbon and Ms Christine Milne
The Australian investment drought
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Letter to Minister Ian Macfarlane
Cc: Johnston and Joyce
29 October 2014
I heard you on the radio the other day. As you were talking I was wondering what the Prime Minister meant when he said something like “having a vigilant government to keep Australians safe.”
We could speculate that returnees from Iraq / Syria could do some damage or if Ebola arrives the damage could be huge. We don’t have to speculate about climate change; it is definitely on the way.
With this in mind, your idea of reducing the RET to the original 20 per cent figure seems like a move that will reduce security in Australia substantially.
I note that the Pentagon is working on the security aspects of climate change. I wonder if security comes into Australian decisions or is it all about politics; being different from the opposition?
I think you should be different by increasing the RET to an ‘original’ 40 per cent; that would give your colleague the Hon Barnaby Joyce some room to expand agricultural exports. Without this, agricultural development will have to be all about sequestration of CO2e in trees and soils.
Below I have added a commentary from Eric Schupper about the US approach.
Dr Quentin Farmar-Bowers
“A Defense Department report says the military will begin planning for the risks of climate change across all of the armed forces’ operations.”
From www.nytimes.com – 13 October 2014:
Eric B. Schupper, ScM, JD’s insight:
“In March 2014 the Pentagon released its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The QDR articulates the United States’ national defense strategy and seeks to adapt, shape, and rebalance the U.S. military to prepare for the strategic challenges and opportunities the nation and our military face.
Building on the 2010 QDR, which recognized the threat to national security posed by climate change, the 2014 QDR acknowledges the direct link between the effects of climate change and a myriad of global stressors such as food and water availability, human migration, competition for natural resources, floods, droughts, and sea level rise that are already and will continue to impact DoD’s operational realities.
The 2014 QDR also echoes the report released in May 2014 by the CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board which recognized climate change as a catalyst for increased global conflict and instability.
In the Department of Defense 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap released today, the Pentagon details how it plans to address climate change risk across all of its activities and operations, and all branches. The U.S. military is in the business of assessing, calculating, preparing for, and responding to risk.
It is a significant development that the Pentagon has not only acknowledged the seriousness of the climate change threat, but also plans to incorporate climate risk analysis into its strategic thinking and preparedness.”