Sunday, March 8, 2015

Gas industry seeks a lifeline as opposition mounts


Published in Green Left Weekly, March 6, 2015 
The onshore gas industry in south-east Australia is in trouble. Public opposition, low international oil prices and projected supply shortfalls have combined to cast doubt on the profitability of the industry.


Lock the Gate's Drew Hutton addresses community rally in Poowong, Victoria.
The international finance company Credit Suisse has indicated that the LNG (liquefied natural gas) export facilities at Gladstone in Queensland may fall short of meeting their export contracts in coming years, by up to 30%.

In January, Credit Suisse found that at the current, unexpectedly low international oil prices — which influence the price for LNG exports — and unfavourable currency exchange rates, major industry players like Santos and Origin Energy could see their share value plummet.

All this suggests that the industry is in significant financial trouble.

Friday, February 27, 2015

RET compromise no victory for renewable energy

Feb 27, 2015 - News that the Coalition is possibly negotiating again with Labor over a compromise agreement on the Renewable Energy Target is not to be celebrated.

The current uncertainty over the future of the target means that there is pretty much zero investment happening, banks won't loan money for renewable projects, because no-one knows what the future will bring.

Unfortunately, if Labor negotiate a reduced target with the Coalition, we could be in the position where a significant reduction in the target will be painted as a victory for the industry -- because it gets the finance and construction of projects happening in the short term.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Did Indigenous fire change Australia's environment?


Discussion paper, May 2014; written for a subject in BSc course.

Many Australian plant species and ecological communities have evolved to cope with, benefit from or even rely on fire (Bowman, 2012). There is little debate that the Indigenous peoples of Australia prior to European colonisation also used fire widely including for clearing vegetation and hunting, and that they effected some changes on the ecology of the continent.

The exact nature of those changes, and the role of fire specifically, however, is a more contentious topic, and hard to settle conclusively with the evidence currently available (Kirkpatrick, 1999; Kohen, 1993).

This paper will explore several of the key lines of argument and dispute, examine some of the evidence they are based on, and suggest how well current research may be able to answer the question (or not).

Friday, October 31, 2014

Time to reopen the campaign for Free Education.

With Gough Whitlam in the news following his recent passing, it's fitting to consider one popular aspect of his legacy: free education.

Fitting, because while the current Lib/Nat Coalition government is planning to tighten all the screws they can on student debt, the Labor Party is doing what opposition does and condemning it.

Just today I got an email from Bill Shorten about the unjust fee increases.

"When I was at uni, the HECS scheme was first introduced. It meant I had to pay $1800 towards my degree -- whenever I could afford it," he says.

"Under Tony Abbott’s scheme, the same would have cost $146,133 including interest and taken more than 12 years to repay."

Well I have to say, if Shorten is concerned he only has himself (and his party) to blame.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lest we forget what really happens in war


As Australia lurches into yet another war in the middle east, poorly thought through as all those before, it's worth remembering the first major war Australian troops fought in, the first world war. It was billed "the war to end all wars" due to the horror, but in reality it launched a century (and counting) of bloody, stupid and unnecessary slaughter that shows no sign of letup.

My friend John Tognolini wrote this book, a fictionalised story of his two uncles who fought at Gallipoli. He doesn't glorify the war, despite parts of the book reading like an action novel. In fact, it is a fair survey of the stupidity of this particular war, from the viewpoint of the trenches.

Who killed the Renewable Energy Target?

It’s not actually dead. But…
Written for Green Left Weekly:

With news that the unlikely climate conscience of the Palmer United Party is holding firm, it appears that the Renewable Energy Target and some associated Federal programs will not be abolished yet. But manufactured uncertainty may yet be enough to bring large-scale wind and solar projects to a standstill.
The Abbott government came to power with a promise to kill Australia’s climate policies, and its actions to date show this is one of their priorities. They have achieved their explicit aim – to repeal the carbon price – and are following up with attacks on the other climate and renewable energy programs.
Even if they fail to pass all the required legislation to remove all these, the climate of regulatory uncertainty may be enough to stop investment. If the renewable energy industry isn’t killed, it may end up languishing on life support.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Victoria's Strzelecki koalas need Federal protection

A new report from Friends of the Earth suggests a combined pressure from habitat loss, inbreeding and disease in combination may pose significant threats to the future survival of the koala in Victoria and South Australia, and the group is calling for Federal protection for key populations of the species.

The death of koalas during logging of plantations across Victoria's southwest, and into South Australia, has attracted international attention. A petition to the Victorian government by German environmental group Rainforest Rescue attracted over 85,000 signatures after a July 2013 report on ABC TV's 7:30 Report suggested many koalas had been killed during logging of plantations.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Anthony Amis told Green Left Weekly that the last endemic southern koala population in Victoria, in the Strzelecki Ranges to the southeast of Melbourne, needs to be managed the same as animals that have Federal protection in NSW and QLD, they need to be treated as a separate management unit.”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Vic govt on naptime as mine fire poisons Morwell


Premier Denis Napthine is living up to his new nickname “Naptime” as the Hazelwood coalmine fire continues its terrible impact on the town of Morwell, in Victoria's Latrobe Valley.

The edge of the town is only a few hundred metres from where the fire has been burning since February 9. The plume of toxic smoke and ash from the fire is blanketing the town much of the time.

The unfolding disaster demands an immediate escalation of action, and Greens MLC Greg Barber is right to demand that the government declare a state of emergency, as hard as health minister David Davis denies it is needed.

A Heironymous Bosch painting? No, it's Hazelwood coal mine.

The first priority for emergency action must be the health of the community. Declaring a state of emergency, and providing evacuation centres with some form of accommodation for those who wish to leave, are the bare minimum that needs to be done by the government.

Currently, advice is to leave Morwell if possible. This leaves vulnerable people such as unsupported elderly residents, and people who cannot risk leaving their employment, with no choice but to stay and breathe the toxic smoke.

The mine fire is also highlighting deeper problems. The failures of the private ownership of the power industry and of government regulation are highlighted, as is the inadequacy of Australia's air pollution monitoring and safety standards. The future of employment in the Valley is also brought into question if cost-cutting can cause such disasters as this.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The lies about renewable energy's costs

The Abbott government is conducting a review of Australia's Renewable Energy Target, which is for 20% of projected energy generation to be from renewables by 2020.[edit, March 2015: the target was for 41,000 gigawatt-hours, which was at the time projected to be about 20%).

Recent commentary has focused on the scandalous appointment of prominent climate change deniers and fossil fuel industry heavies making the review panel look more like a lynch mob for renewable energy. Dick Warburton, who will head the review, is on the public record denying climate science.

Underlying such scandalous appointments, however, is something simpler and less absurd than flat-earth climate change denial. The big energy generators – private and state entities, who run the big power stations – are finding their profits squeezed by the growth in renewable energy.

Yallourn brown coal power station, Victoria

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Power privatisation blocks climate action

Published in Chain Reaction and Green Left Weekly, June 2013.

Markets are neither free nor efficient, and they are bad for the environment. Market choice is not cheap. While that may sound like a timeless left-wing credo, it's also a simple assessment of Australia's 20 years of privatisation and market-oriented restructure of electricity supply.

Outside small left-wing dissident circles (from Keynesians to Marxists), operating the power industry according to market principles has become an unquestioned and unspoken assumption.

Reducing this industry's greenhouse emissions has also been seen as fundamentally a matter of market mechanisms, as Australia heads toward an emissions trading scheme. But the history of the past two decades indicates that electricity industry privatisation and imposed market mechanisms have already been a key barrier to reducing emissions and restructuring the industry in a progressive manner.