By the accident of mistakenly tuning in to the wrong channel I heard part of a speech on August 2 by Peter Freyberg to the British Australian Chamber of Commerce. Freyberg is the head of Glencore’s coal operations. You would expect that he likes coal and he evidently does. And presumably that would make him persona non grata among environmental types. Which is a pity because he had some sensible things to say.
When it came to the environment and climate change his message came down to the proposition: do you want to feel virtuous or be effective? At one point, he used the example of the most populous state in India which was building coal power stations to provide base-load power to millions upon millions of people now without electricity. He suggested that a lot more could be done too reduce emissions by redirecting subsidies bound for new wind farms towards building the most up-to-date and efficient (and, per force, most expensive) coal power stations in this Indian state. In other words, you would get more bang for your buck in terms of emission reductions per kilowatt hour.
I feel confident that he is right; though, of course, I don’t have the figures. However, right or not, he is whistling into the wind, so to speak. Carpetbaggers living off public subsidies now control the agenda. And behind the carpetbaggers are hordes of green-tinged know-nothings with ‘ban coal’ tee-shirts. Rational thinking doesn’t get a look in.
It is worth reading Return to Reason by Roger James, who applied Karl Popper’s thinking to explore government planning mistakes in the 1970s. What often happens he explains is that solutions morph into objectives. The solution becomes the goal. The goal becomes lost and sometimes is not even clearly formulated from the start. Among other things, this means that the emergence of more effective solutions to the original problem are not brought into consideration; and nor is the problem continually monitored to assess whether it remains in need of a different solution or of a solution at all.
Think of the PM’s Snowy Mountains (mark 2) power plan. Did this come out of a thorough analysis and identification of the problem and of the potential solutions? Not so far as I can tell. It is not hard to see the problem (a shortage of reliable base-load power) and its generic solution (increasing the supply of reliable cost-effective power) morphing into how do we get the new hydro project built.
Assume that anthropogenic CO2 emissions constitute a life-threatening problem, even if you don’t. The solution of reducing emissions has morphed into replacing fossil-fuel power with wind and sun. Now be brave and get into the mind of a greenie, like Al Gore perhaps, and listen to Freyberg.
While I don’t have a transcript of his speech, readers can check the fidelity of my account against the video of Freyberg’s address, thoughtfully posted on Friday at the website of the Australian British Chamber of Commerce. He says that wind and sun cannot provide the solution. He has figures which back his claim that, unless we go back to the Stone Age, wind and sun will not work. They are too expensive, too intermittent and too unreliable to supply base-load power to modern industrial and industrialising countries in quantities that will make a material difference to emissions.
And that Elon Musk mega-battery coming to South Australia? It would keep an aluminium smelter going for less than 8 minutes. Instructively, he further says, each precious public dollar spent on subsidising wind and sun power is a dollar that could have been better spent on increasing the efficiency and reducing the emissions of conventional power.
Just think a dollar spent on making coal power more efficient reduces CO2 more than a dollar spent on wind turbines. This is too much information of a contrary kind for Al Gore-types. You will find yourself shutting down and refusing to listen. You will suspect motives. You will don your trusty tee-shirt. You will put aside rationality and go back into the streets with like-minded simpletons. Where zealotry abides, slogans will trump considered thinking any day of the week.
Yet the key, as Roger James argues, is to keep a tight hold on the problem which requires a solution. One questioner of Freyberg asked whether a goal of reducing emissions cost-effectively couldn’t potentially bring both sides together. I honestly forget his answer, but I don’t remember him being optimistic. Neither am I.
What happened to Bjorn Lomborg’s plans to establish a climate policy centre in Australia is indicative of the other side’s intransigence. You either buy their whole narrative — man is responsible, renewables are the answer, fossil fuels and nuclear are bad — or you are blackballed and insulted to boot. This is a pity. There was room for compromise and accommodation provided the goal of most cost-effectively reducing emissions per kilowatt hour is kept upmost. Those like me who doubt the received scientific wisdom could have been dragged along without that much kicking and screaming.