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Issue #1765      February 15, 2017

Editorial

The idiocy that is capitalism

“We do not have one modern high-efficiency low-emissions coal-fired power station, let alone with carbon capture storage.” So runs PM Malcolm Turnbull’s line on “clean” coal. His government plans to subsidise the construction of clean coal power stations as well as trying to bribe farmers to lift bans on fracking for coal seam gas.

Add to this the push by the Liberals for the construction of coal-fired power stations in Australia’s north using the $5 billion Northern Australian Infrastructure Fund (taxpayers’ money). In addition, monies from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – created to fund renewable technologies such as wind, solar and battery storage – to be diverted into clean coal technologies (all taxpayers’ money for future coal mining profits).

Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg trumpeted that “we’re taking a non-ideological approach” to sources of energy supply, along the lines of Turnbull’s recent “technology agnostic” declaration. And in a fit of typical rank opportunism the government pounced on this month’s power outages in South Australia during the current record-breaking heatwave as “proof” that renewables don’t cut it.

Mining accounts for around seven percent of Australia’s total production of goods and services. (gross domestic product), and employs around two percent of the workforce (compared to 300,000 in agriculture, 400,000 in financial services, 900,000 in manufacturing, a million each in education and construction, 1.2 million in retail and 1.5 million in healthcare).

As far as paying tax, forget 30 percent: they are highly accomplished at moving taxable profits offshore to low tax havens.

In this light, the massively polluting and Barrier Reef-threatening Adani coal mine project in Queensland should be seen in all its potential destructiveness in the context of the Turnbull government’s $1 billion taxpayer gift to construct rail and port facilities.

So, if such facts and figures don’t make it clear that the government’s push for fossil fuels is not only against all common sense and a looming danger to the planet, consider the following.

Energy umbrella group the Australian Energy Council said this month “clean’ coal plants are “uninvestible” and that its members, the biggest fossil fuel power generators in the country, have no intention of building one. Such plants have a 50 year life emitting 700 kilograms of carbon per MWh – and most likely more – over a period of half a century.

They cost up to $5 billion to build.

The chief scientist Alan Finkel has been charged by the government to produce a national energy security review. Dr Finkel says that even “clean coal” technologies (there is no such thing as clean coal) won’t be able to compete with low-emissions technology such as solar and wind.

If the government was expecting a stamp of approval for its plan to continue fossil fuel generation, it will be disappointed as Finkel rejects taxpayer-funded coal projects.

Royal Dutch Shell has begun a “gas-plus-renewables” strategy. Shell has created a New Energies division to invest in renewables and has a contract to build a 700 megawatt wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands. In France oil corporation Total SA is putting increasing investments into solar and battery power.

AGL Energy, the owner of the two biggest coal fired power stations in the country, states categorically, “AGL will not build, finance or acquire new or conventional coal-fired power stations in Australia” and “will not extend the operating life of any of its existing coal-fired power stations.”

In Denmark, Dong Energy is now the biggest investor in offshore wind power projects in Europe and plans to become a completely coal-free power generator by 2023.

This is not by way of claiming that the big polluters have suddenly seen the light: some are simply and pragmatically, from the point of view of the profit bottom line, coming to terms with the reality.

Just a few years ago a former Saudi oil minister noted: “The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil.”

Yet, in the face of all incontrovertible scientific evidence of the disastrous effect of global warming (if anyone knows of something more disastrous than the destruction of all life on earth, please write and let us know what it is), what is one to say about this government’s climate change denial?

We can only point to the idiocy of a system based on profits first, foremost and above life itself.

Next article – Universities condemn ban

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