3 May 2014

What is it about geologists

What is it about geologists that makes them question climate change? It seems to me that about the only scientists who question cc seem to be geologists. I've mulled over this one. I suggest (my hypothesis) is that they know of great changes in climate over lengthy periods (6 billion years, I guess) so they don't see climate change as unusual. The problem is, though, that human kind has only been around a small part of that time, and civilisation is only dated at 10,000 years ago and climate change is very rapid and it may not suit humanity. Even if people are around, civilisation may not be. (Think: NYC has flooded already and it cost $60b; the floods in Qld cost $6b and a tax levy; when does this become uneconomic). See, I actually like civilisation. There have been a few that have come and gone (around the Euphrates; in the Americas; in SE Asia; once verdant Sahara), so it does happen. Now we're one big civilisation and climate is changing fast and the mechanism of greenhouse gasses has been known to science for 150 years or so, and we're at 400ppm and adding another couple each year, and 2 degrees warming (guessed to come at 450ppm) is a rough estimate of where runaway climate change could happen given various feedback loops (the ubiquitous "tipping points"), and we've got buckley's of staying within 2 degrees. And I'm pessimistic.

So, why did I bother to attend Matt Grudnoff of the Australia Institute talking about the Renewable Energy Target the other night at Politics in the Pub? Glutton for punishment? FWIW, here are a few points he made, if I got it right. RET was set at 45K kwh by 2020. RECs (Renewable Energy Certificates) were bought. They were popular (I thought, to what degree from subsidies?). RET was created by Howard in 2001 and was successful, perhaps too successful. Not as efficient as the carbon tax, but better than most other approaches. RET was initially supported by fossil fuel industries, but became unpopular when electricity use dropped due to reduced industrial use (GFC and industrial closures) and improved energy efficiency (buildings, appliances) thus threatened stranded assets (excuse me cutting out swathes of the argument). Most income from electricity is from wholesale prices that soar with peak demand (25% of profits come from 36 peak generation hours each year!) but peak demand was limited by strong generation by renewables (wind, solar) at peak times (aircon, etc). As for carbon tax and electricity prices, carbon tax makes up ~9% of electricity costs; ~55% is network costs. Existing power stations were build by government and sold off after depreciation, but building new generation capability is too costly for private industry when capital must be depreciated, or at least would make this electricity uncompetitive. And recent studies (in the paper last week) suggested downward pressure on electricity prices from renewables, given no input fuel (coal, gas) required and increasing efficiency with an expanding industry. There was more argument and it was pretty dry, if important. Whatever, it may all be crap like climate change is said to be. But I don't think so. I'm not so cocky as to think I should have an opinion on science. Science seems a pretty good tool to me. So, my thoughts? Be very, very worried.

1 comment:

statmatt said...

Thanks for the report. Yes it is worrying, especially given the direction that the government is taking Australia in.