Sweetness & Light

Battery Buffs go to Blazes

According to a Macquarie Dictionary committee, 2023’s word of the year is cozzie livs. Which is plainly two words, both of them never previously spoken in that sequence by any Australian right up until the Macquarie Dictionary’s word-of-the-year announcement in November.

Cozzie livs is, the dictionary people tell us, a “humorous play” on the phrase “cost of living”. Macquarie’s committee—what an Algonquin Round Table of the antipodes that must be—further explained: “Although ‘cozzie livs’ was coined in the UK, it has resonated soundly with Australians, with its -ie suffix and its clipped formation, reminiscent of menty b and locky d.”

A brief expository interruption is required. Menty b is apparently the hip new way by which all the cool kids refer to mental breakdowns. Likewise, locky d is the hipster formulation for Covid lockdowns, which as it happens led to a great many episodes of menty b. Anybody actually saying these things obviously needs to be whatever the cutesy contraction is for “put in a wood chipper”.

Tim Blair appears in every Quadrant.
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While we’re firing up the woody c, please consider the only possible circumstance in which the Macquarie Dictionary’s word of the year might be used in conversation beyond 2023. I’m tipping it’ll be from one gay federal Labor staffer to another during preparations for a ministerial speech: “And don’t forget, darls, to add all that stuff about how we’re reducing grocery prices. Cheaper energy, too. Plenty of cozzie livs, love.”

Anyway, it’s a sour old Quadrant columnist who knocks down a word or phrase of the year without suggesting something better. I’ve got a feeling the following phrase may grow in use and impact throughout coming months: smouldering event. It refers to the kind of glowing, smoky, toxic outcomes frequently associated with lithium-ion battery use and disposal.

As the ABC reported in early December: “This year, the Townsville City Council in north Queensland said there had been five fires at the city’s landfill, six at the recycling facility and 33 smouldering events.” Those fires and “smouldering events”, Townsville council resource recovery officer Amelia Chaplin told the national broadcaster, present “a massive safety risk to our truck drivers and facility staff”.

Chaplin is correct. But here’s the thing: despite constant accounts of lithium-ion battery blow-ups in everything from tiny vaping devices to massive semi-trailer-size trucks, there’s very little wailing from the usual save-the-planet safety fanatics about “smouldering events” or worse.

This may just be because lithium-ion batteries—or “lithy i”, as they’ll likely become known—have the seal of holy climate approval. Like wind turbines that slice and dice precious birdlife, lithium-ion batteries serve a higher, positively saintly purpose. You know, in between setting fires everywhere and killing more people every year.

In September, following a series of lithium-ion torchings, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission deputy chair Catriona Lowe expressed her battery worries to SBS. “We are concerned by increasing reports of lithium-ion battery fires resulting in property damage and serious injuries, including burns, chemical exposure and smoke inhalation,” Lowe said.

Now, if any other product was damaging property and seriously injuring people with the same reckless and aggressive abandon of your average lithy i units, the ACCC might agitate for a ban or at least a restriction on sales.

But the ACCC’s Lowe didn’t go that far. Not at all. Instead, she merely asked that people do something—something unknown and unspecified, and with no timeframe at all, but, still, something. “We recommend,” she told SBS, “that government and industry continue to develop solutions to ensure lithium-ion batteries are safely designed and can be sustainably disposed.”

Hmmm. That SBS article later hinted at the reason for such a relatively moderate attitude: “Lowe said the product’s safety was critical as the batteries were a major part of the transition to net-zero emissions.” Net-zero emissions! With those magical words, all of lithium-ion’s sometimes deadly and routinely ruinous fire crimes are swept aside.

“Lithium-ion batteries are the critical pillar in a fossil fuel-free economy,” a 2021 United Nations paper cheered. “Their uses in electric vehicles and stationary energy storage have grown exponentially in recent years, due to technological advances and significant price declines. The use of lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles and stationary storage systems has indeed reduced greenhouse gas emissions by replacing combustion engines.”

But they’re not replacing combustion. In fact, they’re causing rather a lot of it. “So far this year, 18 people have been killed by fires caused by lithium-ion batteries,” the New York City Fire Department recently warned. “Just last month, the Fire Safety Research Institute produced a powerful video demonstrating why it is so difficult to escape from a fire started by a lithium-ion battery.”

That video, available on the platform formerly known as Twitter, initially shows a dinky little lithium-ion powered e-bicycle peacefully recharging in a mocked-up apartment. The bike then begins emitting smoke before erupting into a room-filling ball of flame. This entire process takes just four seconds. “It’s the equivalent,” a voiceover informs us, “of taking a blowtorch to your sofa.”

That’s quite a counter-intuitive means of rescuing all of us from global warming. If only a climate change get-out clause had existed back in 1937 when the Hindenburg crashed and burned in New Jersey, over the river from the site of today’s lithium-ion fires. That disaster cost thirty-six lives—just twice New York’s battery fatality total for 2023. Yet the passenger zeppelin industry was effectively ended immediately.  

By contrast, lithium-ion technology rolls on. As the UN approvingly notes: “In 2019, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to three scientists for the development of lithium-ion batteries that, according to the Academy, have laid the foundation for a fossil fuel-free economy.”

Let’s hope the lithium-ion sector wins another prize in 2024, when the Macquarie Dictionary’s ever-vigilant committee is casting about for their next word of the year. Smouldering event has probably missed its moment, but battery death could be a candidate. Especially if it’s abbreviated to the catchier batty d.

THANKS to my weekly appearances on The Kenny Report and various other popular Sky television programs, I am sometimes recognised and greeted in public.

All of these occasions are enjoyable, informative and shared in extensive detail with the missus, who for her part simply refuses to believe they have ever occurred. But then it happened one day in her very presence. No longer could my stardom be denied.

We were in Trev’s Bargain Emporium, a regional Wimmera landmark, looking for the hobby ceramics aisle (third row back and to the right, from memory). A charming couple called out my name and wandered over for a chat. This proved too much for the missus, who stalked away in search of her high-quality modelling clay.

We did not speak of this on the way home. Nor did we discuss a subsequent friendly recognition one or two weeks later at Waack’s Bakery in Stawell. A man has to know when not to push his luck, particularly when scalding hot and potentially injurious Cornish pasties are at hand.

The important thing, though, is the impressively wide-ranging content of these impromptu meetings. One might assume, for example, given Sky’s image and the unconcealed attitudes of many Sky presenters, that these viewers are also similarly inclined to the right.

And quite a few are. But many just like to know what’s going on. They watch Sky day and night, not solely for politics and provocation—that’s a much-appreciated bonus, apparently—but for straight-up national news.

Many make a point of mentioning their former allegiance to the ABC. As they do now with Sky, they previously defaulted to Aunty as a primary televisual source.

Some deeper research may be called for here, but it seems that these ex-ABC viewers didn’t abandon the public broadcaster because its content no longer matched their politics. Their departure is much more easily explained.

The ABC stopped covering what they cared about, in a pure informational sense, and so the viewers walked. Sky, by contrast, delivers middle-Australian news to a middle-Australian audience. Without fussing over demographics, market research or media theory, Sky just covers stories that people might be interested in.

And Sky does it in ways people can relate to. This isn’t a complicated process. The most difficult part of it, in fact, might be deciding what not to cover—which is where the ABC proves extremely useful. As a general guide, the more that something excites the fringier elements of the ABC, the less likely it is to impress centrist Australians.

The ABC’s “fringier elements”, by the way, become less distinct daily from the broadcaster’s once almost-mainstream core. The joint’s a billion-dollar panic circus and esoteria warehouse, where the only buyers are involuntary tax-paying victims.

Frankly, you get a better class of crowd at Trev’s. Plus a far more extensive range of premium pastime products.

13 thoughts on “Battery Buffs go to Blazes

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    Blair,
    It is a relief that you have detailed your shopping centre incident clearly. In preparation for the unhappy event that one day you are in court defending defamation charges, you have now lain down evidence that a stranger did not stare at you in the way that upset Michael Mann as described in his evidence of causing actual harm. Geoff S

  • Citizen Kane says:

    Tim, you may have overlooked the fate of the cargo vessel ‘Fremantle Highway’ which was completely gutted out in the North Sea after it’s cargo of 3000 lithium battery electric vehicles spontaneously caught fire, killing one crew and taking over a week to extinguish (it wasn’t extinguished as such, they just had to wait until all the lithium fuel had been exhausted – which is the nature of these fires) . What makes me laugh is they call this clean green renewable energy when in reality Lithium is finite, environmentally noxious and volatile along with being detrimental to human health in anything other than small doses. In time it will be seen to be on par with Lead (Pb), maybe in about 50 years when the ignoramus wake up to themselves.

  • STJOHNOFGRAFTON says:

    Could lithium batteries become a viable alternative to crematoria?

    • STD says:

      STJOHNOFGRAFTON you’re being ever so naughty again, haven’t you read the humourless ding bat manifesto of leftoids – No jesting unless it is tinged with utter madness; Oops-my apologies!
      I’m sure Rita Panahi would give you a good rap, and have no doubt you would be into’d as Australia’s living Saint of irony’s and a most palatable Teal version of the deplorable retired Les Patterson.- Cue- Bayesian probability,” semantically complex process of relating, differentiating and combining said and unsaid meanings and doing so with an evaluative edge”.
      .
      Oh, by the way Tim great stuff, it’s no wonder the peculiar, in particular the Green machine of the left are going nuts over lithium, as it masks the intentional condition of unconditional suicide in the newly discovered metal/mental disorder of economic political bipolarity – too funny see hilarity.

  • Tony Tea says:

    All the world’s a petri dish, and all the men and women merely expendable flesh units in pursuit of Nut Zero.

  • padraic says:

    It is not surprising that lithium is used to save the planet. It is also used sensibly in human medicine for the treatment of acute mania.

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    C K
    Yes there has been a clear change in the regulations concerning putting electric vehicles on ferries.
    Were this broadly canvassed it would be a reason not to buy a lithium battery car if being towed, trailered or shipped on a ferry.
    Off topic this week I have noticed two lithium cars driving slowly on the road and wonder if this means more economy to get home with range anxiety.
    The problems for transporters include the lack of sufficient heat sensors to detect fires on each vehicle and the inability to put them out once started.
    https://www.amsa.gov.au/vessels-operators/domestic-commercial-vessels/dcv-safety-alert-022023-risks-associated-carriage
    Battery technology is getting better however.
    Police in Sydney are inspecting bikes and scooters for approved batteries or Chinese knock offs from ebay and confiscating same.
    The bigger brands have more ‘safe’ batteries now, although they have to be junked after an accident.
    The bigger problem is that the solar panels are largely not properly voltage compensated.
    As a result on a sunny day the voltage peaks above 230 240 .
    Two ‘fixes’ are to turn down the transformers giving power from coal fired power stations or hydro, or put batteries in parks to mop up the excess and drain them at night.
    Its interesting that in Teal electorates the nimby’s are ascendent and wont let them despoil their parks, while in rural electorates the locals are happy to put them in and use the electricity.
    Big batteries can be dangerous, although I suspect the learning curve is fast.
    The last fire was some years ago.
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-07-30/tesla-battery-fire-moorabool-geelong/100337488

  • terenc5 says:

    Surprised your wife is unaware of your fame. Didnt the gaggle of giggling groupies following you about alert her?

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