Monday, April 27, 2009

Carbon storage an impossible dream

Given my postings earlier this week I was fascinated to read Paddy Mannings G-BIZ column in today's Age. The column is developed around the concerns of Graham Brown aged 57, a former coal miner of 20 years. Some quotes give a flavour:

''He says most people working at the coal face know CCS is "just not do-able. It's never going to get off the ground. The technology's so expensive that it's not going to be economical."

The main problem is the sheer volume of carbon dioxide that needs to be captured and stored. Brown explains it this way: for every tonne of coal burnt there are 2.5 to 2.7 tonnes of carbon to store. A tonne of carbon is about 500 cubic metres, as a gas at sea level at room temperature.

Now, say coal-fired power stations in Australia emit 100 million tonnes of carbon each year. The Government hopes CCS will trap 20 per cent of those emissions. If the gas is compressed 500 times, that's 20 million tonnes a year.

Transporting 20 million tonnes of highly compressed gas is no mean feat. "Look at the infrastructure that needs to be in place to get 80 million tonnes of coal to port," says Brown. "Moving gas is a different kettle of fish to moving coal … because it's got to be stored in an intrinsically safe way — either pipe or trucks or trains".

In other words CCS is a pipe dream!!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Epitaphs for New Labour have a convincing tone...what of our democratic forms?

Reading the demolition of New Labour in Guy Rundle's epitaph today I was left with little satisfaction depite my criticism of New Labour and the Blair government in particular. Within our current democratic system the alternatives (both in the UK and and in Oz) seem like a choice to jump out of the frying pan into the fire. We need more systemic and adaptive forms of governance!
Juxtaposing is a practice that can be revealing

Some claim that the capacity to 'see' emerging pattern is key to systems thinking. There is no doubt that juxtaposing certain things can reveal more than either component seen by itself (an example of managing for emergence?) Perhaps this is part of the editor, or sub-editor's art?

In The Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday April 1st (News 3) the titles of two articles were nicely juxtaposed: 'Scrap coal plan, says Rudd's man' and then 'State owns biggest polluters'. Despite the date the joke is at our expense - for accepting this as 'how things are' or 'how they have to be'.

Good on Peter Newman for taking the stand he has, including his dismissal of the Federal Government's $500 million committment into researching clean coal technology. Compare this with the PM's recent prognostications on 'clean coal'. Go to Guy Pearce's Quarterly essay for reasons why this may be so! Or see why leading scientists have attacked the Wong-Rudd position on Australia's proposed climate response.

Since reading Pearce's essay I have become aware that most reports about clean coal use seemingly big numbers ungrounded (for the average reader) in what these numbers actually mean. In addition the clean coal technology itself is rarely referenced in relation to the total infrastructure development that would be needed to make it a viable CO2 reducing system capable of making a significant and timely impact on overall CO2 emissions.

Juxtaposed to these issues, the biggest polluters (in NSW) include, according to the report, Qantas Airways, Caltex and NSW government owned power stations in Lithgow and the Hunter. The details come from a report 'Hidden Costs of Electricity' which estimates the health costs of coal and gas generators were $2.6 billion, about the same as vehicle pollution.

PS Good to see that Minister for Finance, Lindsay Tanner was prepared to launch the 'Hidden Costs' report.
Maynard Keynes is supposed to have said...

what exactly? In my previous posting Robert Skidelsky ended his article by quoting Keynes:

'John Maynard Keynes wrote that "practical men who believe themselves to be quite immune from intellectual influences are usually the slaves of some defunct economist".

I have seen this quote and variations of it attributed to Keynes in several places. Does anyone know what he actually said and where? Or perhaps he said the same thing, more or less, several times in different places?

Perhaps starting a search here might help!
Robert Skidelsky mounts another attack on 'Chicago school'- tainted economists

This short article gives a very readable account of why the financial system has gone into systemic failure. Skidelsky contrasts his own analysis with that of 'the "money glut" school. In their view, there was only one cause of the crisis: excessive credit creation that took place when Alan Greenspan was US Federal Reserve chairman. .. This view draws on the "Austrian" theory of booms and slumps, and also Milton Friedman's explanation of the Great Depression. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now.'

Unlike many political leaders who have learned to use the phrase 'systemic failure' Skidelsky is able to point to key influences which have given rise to the failure: i.e. economists and economic theory that 'assumes that markets are perfectly efficient. If they go wrong, it must be because of policy mistakes. This view is also self-contradictory, for if market participants are perfectly rational and perfectly informed, they would not have been fooled by a policy of making money cheaper than it really was.

This suggests a more fundamental reason for the economic crisis: the dominance of the Chicago school of economics, with its belief in the self-regulating properties of unfettered markets. This belief justified the deregulation of financial markets in the name of the "efficient-market hypothesis". It led to the spread of financial risk-management models, which grossly underestimated the amount of risk in the system.'