Doomed Planet

Far More Predictable Than Weather

At a time when public discourse is being corrupted by false facts, fake news and woke corporate censorship, it is comforting to know that at least one news organization fervently believes its reporting is objective and accurate — especially in regard to the world’s newest religion, climate change. I speak, as you might have guessed, about the ABC.

Geoffrey Crowther, editor of The Economist from 1938 to 1956, advised young journalists to “simplify, then exaggerate”. Well, it certainly caught on. Every tactic in the modern media cyber-kit is employed to capture eyeballs in today’s Age of Hyperbole, as the ABC’s The World Today demonstrated once again last week. The item’s title was a triumphant “Big step against climate change as UK goes a week without coal.”

Deconstructing the four minutes and twenty-three seconds of ABC-style “reporting” is a worthwhile exercise, for it illuminates how zero-carbon rhetoric about “climate change” is being used to promote a very dodgy narrative.  Being economical with the truth, or ignorant of it, helps too.

Sarah Dingle, ABC: So far in this election campaign we’ve heard a fair amount of wrangling about how Australia should cut its carbon [dioxide] emissions and by how much. Meanwhile, the entire United Kingdom has just gone a whole week without burning coal for power. The UK’s electricity system’s provider says this is a major milestone in its effort to combat climate change and lower emissions. It’s the first time since 1882 that Britons haven’t relieved on the fossil fuel when they flick the switch. Nick Grimm reports.

Soundtrack: a child’s voice singing an atmospheric lament from Oliver Twist.

Nick Grimm, ABC: For generations it left its indelible mark on British life, powering the industrial revolution and helping produce the grimy scenes of Dickensian Britain immortalised by stories like Oliver Twist. But since last week coal hasn’t been part of the mix of energy sources feeding the UK’s national grid.

Prime Minister Teresa May tweeted: “I am proud that Britain has gone a record week without using coal to generate power. Our investment in greener forms of energy is reducing emissions and ensuring we leave our planet in a better state for the next generation.”

That news catching the eye of former Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who retweeted Teresa May’s message accompanied by his own: “The UK’s political challenges are not enviable. But at least there is long-standing by-partisan support for tackling climate change and moving to net-zero emissions; and in particular away from burning fossil fuels.”

Britain’s first coal-free day occurred in 2017. It’s taken two years to extend that run to an entire week. But the director of the National Grid Electricity System (NGES) operator, Fintan Slye, said: “coal-free power will become the new normal”, as renewables like wind and solar become a larger part of Britain’s energy mix; though currently the UK does rely heavily on natural gas and nuclear energy.

It has a target to eliminate coal from its power supply by 2025, with a deadline of 2050 to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions altogether. It comes as the UN Secretary General, António Guterres has warned that the world must dramatically change the way it fuels factories, vehicles and homes if it wants to avoid climate catastrophe.

António Guterres, UN: It is clear that there is not yet enough sense of urgency in many of the people that are not yet experiencing the direct impact of climate change. My optimism comes from the fact that, first, more and more people are becoming directly impacted; and second, that the conscience is growing that the problem is becoming a dramatic threat to the whole of humankind. So my feeling is that more and more governments will be pressed to act. That is a good thing, and a good thing that technology is on our side. Today it is cheaper to produce electricity with solar energy than with coal.

Nick Grimm: Energy experts says that the transition from coal to other sources of power itself involves a lot more than just the flick of a switch.

Matthew Warren: People like to think of it as a signal of a change that’s coming and that’s true. But it also within the industry signals a lot of technical headaches that need to be solved. It’s not as easy as turning different types of technology on and off.

Nick Grimm: Matthew Warren is the author of Blackout, which deals with the challenges facing Australia’s power-generators. He’s also former chief executive of the Australian Energy Council and the Clean Energy Council.

Matthew Warren: The way we use electricity was built around these large thermal generators. We’re discovering in Australia that there are significant technical challenges as we replace that with large-scale intermittent renewable generation. That doesn’t mean we don’t do it, but it’s not as easy as it might look from the outside.

Nick Grimm: Not a simple process, nor will it be a cheap one for Britain or anywhere else. The biggest challenge: whether consumers will accept the [alleged] benefits outweigh the price.

Soundtrack: So what am I to do, to keep the sky so blue.

Sarah Dingle: The World Today approached the Australian Minerals Council for comment. [There was none, for reasons unknown. Perhaps they were out to lunch.]

There’s much slick packaging to admire in this ABC report. Consider, for example, the canny introduction with its twist: Alberto Pascual’s 1950s photograph of the art deco Battersea Power Station from the north bank of the Thames against a blue, almost cloudless sky. That Battersea has not produced a solitary watt since 1983 wasn’t mentioned.

Setting the scene, Ms Dingle contrasted Australia’s tiresome domestic “wrangling” about decarbonising the economy with the UK’s more impressive effort. Described as a major milestone on the highway to renewables utopia, Britain’s coal-less week so excited the ABC that it might have been the broadcast’s lead item had royal baby Archie not arrived on the scene at Frogmore Cottage.

As for the claim about a “big step against climate change”, it prompted my fact-checker’s eye to zoom in on the NGES twitter announcement and an equally triumphant one on May 9 from UK Coal:

This #Coal free run ended at 8 days 1 hour and 25 minutes. This is the longest run without coal for Great Britain since 1882.

The next sentence, however, did not appear in the ABC report:

Generation during this time was met by: Gas 45%, Nuclear 21%, Wind 12%, Imports 10%, Biomass 6%, Solar 5%, Large Hydro <1%, Storage <1%.

Reporter Grimm did mention, at the end of his fourth paragraph, and correctly that “currently the UK does rely heavily on natural gas and nuclear energy” , but not the specific data. Excitement over the “record” coal-free week ended with a touch of reality:

Due to a power plant [unidentified] trip on the system, our control room has taken action to bring a coal power plant online, to replace the tripped plant.

Coal used as grid backup, presumably due to renewables’ variability, was not deemed a newsworthy element of the story. It did not fit the zero-carbon narrative.

On May 12, 2019, the UK Electric Insights live-data site indicated that gas was supplying 44.3 per cent of demand, nuclear 27.3 per cent (taken in total, 71.6 per cent), compared with wind at a paltry 3.9 per cent and coal zero. So despite the trumpeted “big step against climate change” – whatever that means – renewables still comprised less than 15 per cent of supply on the day.

As for moving further away “from burning fossil fuels”, as Malcolm Turnbull suggested in a May 8 tweet, this will be a challenge in both countries, as natural gas is itself a fossil fuel. In 2017 the world’s primary energy sources consisted of petroleum (34 per cent), coal (28 per cent), natural gas (23 per cent), comprising an 85 per cent share for fossil fuels in global consumption, according to Wikipedia.[6]

While it’s true that coal has declined as part of the UK’s energy mix – from 67 per cent in 1990 to 7 per cent today – gas consumption has grown proportionately in the same period, from zero to current levels of more than 40 per cent, with about half sourced from continental Europe and elsewhere. Several new nuclear power stations will be part of the future energy mix, adding to and replacing the 15 currently in service.

A week, as they say, is a long time in politics. It’s also a long time in the zero-carbon game being played by people in places low and high – such as Davos — to persuade us that global climate control is just around the corner. All they need to do is sustain the our-planet-is-on-fire mood, a meme the ABC is only too happy to propagate at every conceivable opportunity. Cambridge University, too, is doing its bit to ratchet up the alarmism. It has established a new entity – the Centre for Climate Repair – to “investigate radical approaches such as refreezing the Earth’s poles and removing CO2 from the atmosphere.” Not to be outrun in the pessimistic stakes, it “fears that current approaches will not on their own stop dangerous and irreversible damage to the planet.” Prof Sir David King, the UK government’s former chief scientific adviser, is co-ordinating the exercise and had this to say:

What we do over the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years. There is no major centre in the world that would be focused on this one big issue.

That’s a big call, Sir David. Given all the angst, it’s no surprise this is fast becoming a popular meme, especially with talk-show hosts and opportunistic members of the political class: carbon [dioxide] emissions cause climate change.

Not so long ago experts only tentatively suggested this invisible trace gas, one vital to all life on the planet, “caused” global warming. Today they – and the folk who fund them — have become more brazen, or “confident”, attributing to it the satanic power to drive every so-called “extreme weather event” on the planet.

There was another post last week: Climate science violates the basic precepts of science. Writing in The Times of India, Sanjeev Sabhlok concluded:

If CO2 were a pollutant, then carbon emissions trading would be a useful solution. But my personal conclusion is that climate science is too primitive to be of any use in making policy. Let it first get its predictions right and become a genuine science. In the meanwhile we know for sure that the modest increase in CO2 over the past fifty years has been enormously beneficial. India should not spend even a minute thinking about this issue and focus instead on abolishing socialism.

As for your choice of background soundtrack, Auntie, here’s two for next time: Heat Wave and Don’t Ask Me No Questions.

10 comments
  • STJOHNOFGRAFTON

    It follows that Australians should have a week without burning coal. Their ABC should set the example by going a week without power.

  • Alice Thermopolis

    Extract from an article written by Terence Cardwell. It appeared in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin on 22.12.09.

    “I have sat by for a number of years frustrated at the rubbish being put forth about carbon dioxide emissions, thermal coal fired power stations and renewable energy and the ridiculous Emissions Trading Scheme.

    Frustration at the lies told (particularly during the election) about global pollution. Using Power Station cooling towers for an example.The condensation coming from those cooling towers is as pure as that that comes out of any kettle.

    Frustration about the so called incorrectly named man made ‘carbon emissions’ which of course is Carbon Dioxide emissions and what it is supposedly doing to our planet.

    Frustration about the lies told about renewable energy and the deliberate distortion of renewable energy and its ability to replace fossil fuel energy generation. And frustration at the ridiculous carbon credit programme which is beyond comprehension.

    And further frustration at some members of the public who have not got a clue about thermal Power Stations or Renewable Energy. Quoting ridiculous figures about something they clearly have little or no knowledge of.

    First coal fired power stations do NOT send 60 to 70% of the energy up the chimney. The boilers of modern power station are 96% efficient and the exhaust heat is captured by the economisers and reheaters and heat the air and water before entering the boilers.

    The very slight amount exiting the stack is moist as in condensation and CO2. There is virtually no fly ash because this is removed by the precipitators or bagging plant that are 99.98% efficient. The 4% lost is heat through boiler wall convection.

    Coal fired Power Stations are highly efficient with very little heat loss and can generate massive amount of energy for our needs. They can generate power at efficiency of less than 10,000 b.t.u. per kilowatt and cost wise that is very low.”

    Cardwell spent 25 years in the Electricity Commission of NSW working, commissioning and operating the various power units. His last was the 4 X 350 MW Munmorah Power Station near Newcastle.

    The article appeared in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin on 22.12.09.

  • Salome

    Didn’t the Thatcher government shut down the coal mines in the 1980s because they were no longer economically viable? Is the comparison between the price of solar power and the price of coal-generated power an Australian comparison or a British one?

  • ianl

    @Salome

    >”Didn’t the Thatcher government shut down the coal mines in the 1980s because they were no longer economically viable?”

    No. She closed the most economically egregious of the subsidised, nationalised mining operations. The careless waste in some of these operations was beyond belief.

    I know this because I was there at the time on consultancy, trying to help sort out the mess.

    Details of some of this are unlikely to appreciated on a non-technical blog and I am tired of fending off, or provoking, uninformed comments.

  • Alice Thermopolis

    In the weird world of “zero-carbon” one gets ironic outcomes.

    UK’s 10% “biomass” figure refers mainly to the Drax power station in North Yorkshire. Driven by government subsidies/policies, it’s had a makeover during the past decade, converting from coal to biomass/gas.

    It’s now the world’s largest biomass power station, but remains the country’s single largest CO2 emitter. Burns equivalent of more than the UK’s total annual wood production each year. Much of the feedstock (wood pellets) comes from forests across the North Atlantic in the USA and Canada. It’s replacing local coal from Yorkshire, the Midlands and Scotland and imports.

    According to The Ecologist: “Biomass is considered by UK industry and government calculations to be “lower carbon” than coal because it is assumed that the carbon emitted will be reabsorbed by new trees planted to replace those that were burnt. However, burning trees today releases carbon [dioxide] into the atmosphere today, and any new trees planted won’t reach maturity and absorb the same amount of carbon [dioxide] for decades.”

    How a growing tree distinguishes – and apparently “rejects” – carbon dioxide arising from burning coal and “selects” only that coming from burning wood pellets is a mystery almost as perplexing as The Case of the Politician, the Green House and a Big Bag of Baloney.

  • Stephen Due

    Whenever I turn on ABC radio there is either a feminist, an environmentalist or a Leftist at the microphone. It is unspeakably boring to hear these people droning on with variations of the one borrowed idea they have managed to memorise in the past decade or so. What is most surprising, however, is that the person speaking invariably seems to think that everybody listening shares their beliefs. They show no evidence at all of being able to recognise, let alone articulate, the counter-arguments to their position. Indeed, they seem to assume that their position is self-evidently true.
    The best way to deal with this problem, in my view, is to privatise the ABC. Then those listeners who want to inhabit that rather cramped little mental world can pay for it out of their own pockets. Admittedly that way of doing things goes against their philosophy, which is that whatever they want to consume should be provided by the government for nothing. But a little bit of ‘user pays’ will be good for them.

  • SB

    Delingpole: Guardian Invents Scary New Name for ‘Global Warming’ — ‘Global Heating’
    https://www.breitbart.com/europe/2019/05/17/guardian-re-names-climate-change-global-heating-to-sound-scarier/

  • SB

    >”Didn’t the Thatcher government shut down the coal mines in the 1980s because they were no longer economically viable?”
    Another reason was to break the power of the unions:
    https://www.channel4.com/news/by/paul-mason/blogs/thatcher-miners-official-papers-confirm-strikers-worst-suspicions

  • Alice Thermopolis

    Gored again by Gore and Aunty.

    “The Saltbush Club today called for an enquiry into a last minute intervention by an American politician, Al Gore, into the Australian Election.

    The Executive Director of the Saltbush Club, Viv Forbes, said that in such a tight election race, the intervention of someone with the international stature of Al Gore, assisted by the climate activist Australian Broadcasting Commission, could easily change the result of the election.

    “The Gore intervention was not subtle – he labelled the LNP government climate policy as ‘not credible’ and taking the country ‘in the wrong direction’.

    “Becoming even more partisan, Gore praised the opposition Labor plan ‘as an extremely significant act of leadership on the part of Australia.’

    “This carefully timed intervention in a closely fought Australian election by a prominent foreign politician is a blatant attempt to promote a damaging climate agenda already rejected in the USA.

    “This surely justifies an enquiry into foreign electoral interference and ABC complicity.”
    https://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/climate-change/al-gore-weighs-in-on-australian-election-urges-australia-to-choose-the-right-path/news-story/c3c1e791154a695c74ced417a56ccd1e

  • Alan Barber

    Humans do make a mess and lately too many. If not Zero Population Growth lets make that sustainable. Nuclear power and desalination ala Israel should be a good start. With 4/5G technology, safe liquid fuel modules can be operated in most places.
    I’m asthmatic and favour less conventional power stations. The sun does not shine all day and the wind does not blow continuously. We have survived for 5 million years plus with natural attrition, why do so many people live in Serendipity. It is not alright to abuse the way we live is it? If Lithium runs out is Aluminium or Boron enough to live in Serendipity?
    Just a bit of rambling to see if we can improve without histeria. AlanIO

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