Saturday, April 20, 2013

Coal and gas - the new tobacco

We now know enough to say that coal and gas.....and, yes, oil are having the same negative consequences that we have come to associate with tobacco and asbestos.  In fact they are worse. Despite 'big oil' and 'big coal' pursuing similar strategies to 'big tobacco' we know that some form of tipping point is approaching when the front page of a UK morning paper reports:

"Carbon bubble will plunge the world into another financial crisis – report
Trillions of dollars at risk as stock markets inflate value of fossil fuels that may have to remain buried forever, experts warn"

The article says:

"The stark report is by [Lord Nicholas] Stern and the thinktank Carbon Tracker. Their warning is supported by organisations including HSBC, Citi, Standard and Poor's and the International Energy Agency. The Bank of England has also recognised that a collapse in the value of oil, gas and coal assets as nations tackle global warming is a potential systemic risk to the economy, with London being particularly at risk owing to its huge listings of coal."

I agree with Chris Reidy when he writes that all subsidies to unused coal, gas and oil should go up in smoke. He points out that:

"More than half of global greenhouse gas emissions come from burning fossil fuels. Reducing and eventually eliminating fossil fuel use is a critical priority. Most of the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground if we are to avoid dangerous climate change.

Yet governments around the world still pour billions of dollars into supporting fossil fuel production and use every year. Money utilised to prop up the fossil fuel industry dwarfs investment in renewable energy. This is a backwards policy that needs to change."

A tragedy that we have inflicted upon ourselves globally is how we have come to believe that natural gas is cleaner than coal and thus a transitional subsitute for oil. Who is it that sold us this discourse? In the process we are creating, or have created 'big gas' and distorted investment strategies so vital for our collective futures. Investment in renewables and more innovation in demand management are the only sure forms of energy security. As this revealing clip shows by turning to gas we are making things worse - it is a turning in the wrong direction.

We need to remove the social license to operate for 'big coal', 'big oil' and 'big gas' as quickly as possible - a good way to start is to remove all taxpayer subsidy.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A 'critical' press

One of the great things about being back in Britain is that there remains a strong, critical press within a diversity of press offerings. To my mind this has to be good for democracy as it is practiced at the moment.  By critical I of course mean the ability to formuate and present a critique.

Two articles last weekend stood out for me as exemplifying this tradition.  In Saturday's Guardian  Leo Hickman's interview with environmental philanthropist Jeremy Grantham was excellent reading.  It made me wish that Grantham would take time out to advise and support The Greens campaign in the forthcoming Australian Federal election. I would certainly like to see him in a staged debate with Tony Abbot, the climate-change-denying head of Australia's Liberal party. Leo Hickman's extended interview with Jeremy Grantham can be read here. This extract shows where Grantham stands:

".... this bubble, the "carbon bubble", is the biggest he's seen. "We're already in a bad place. The worst accidents are [only] 20, 30, 40 years from now." Such apocalyptic talk is often the preserve of deep-green doom-mongers – the kind of talk that has led many to reject environmentalism. But Grantham insists he's guided "by the facts alone".

I may not entirely agree with Grantham on his GMO (though I would say transgenic) position but I did find his position on the so called 'food crisis' refreshing because it was essentially systemic in nature. Unlike an article on the front page of The Observer the following day Grantham understands that the 'food crisis', so called, has to be understood from both supply side and demand side dynamics.  Any perspective that only focuses on supply-side action has to be held up to critical scrutiny as there is a great danger that it is a discourse pushed by vested interests.

Amongs the millions of words that poured forth following the death of Margaret Thatcher - most of which I avoided - I found this article by Will Hutton the most insightful. As is fitting for a systemic journalist of Hutton's ilk, he will be a keynote speaker at this year's UKSS conference in Oxford.