Fire burns toward Australia’s Capital, from @erstkate. How did Australia deny it all along? Marc Hudson studied that for his Doctorate. Then indie energy journalist Nick Cunningham: why fracking is just blowing natural gas straight up, warming us even more.
MARC HUDSON: CLIMATE DENIAL IN BURNING AUSTRALIA
Anyone with a brain feels uneasy about the Australian bush fires right now. They look too much like a photograph of our developing future. Even during the death and destruction, Australian TV and newspapers air voices denying climate change has anything to do with the fires, the long-term drought, or even the continuing punishing killer heat. The national-average for December high temperatures in Australia smashed the previous record, set just last year, by 1.7 °C.
Marc Hudson studied the whole operation of anti-climate activities in Australia. His Doctoral Thesis is titled “Staying Power: Incumbent Strategies to defeat carbon pricing in Australia 1989-2011“. Marc is now working in the UK at the University of Keele, and he is affiliated with the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity.
In addition to his own colorful blog, Marc often publishes articles in The Conversation. Check out this article “Watching our politicians fumble through the bushfire crisis, I’m overwhelmed by déjà vu” published in January.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison was previously managing director of Tourism Australia. Tourism employs far more people in Australia than coal. Does Scott Morrison – and the people he represents – really believe tourists are going to come for the vast burned-out landscape, the annual smoke clouds, or the dead coral reefs?
Scott Morrison took his infamous lump of coal to the Australian Parliament during an incredible heat wave there. Maybe we should expect to see the most vulgar denial exactly when climate tragedies strike. That’s when the big boys fear the public might wake up. Perhaps now that the flames have roared right up to the country’s capital of Canberra, there can be some changes. It’s reached a point where American scientist Michael Mann says we may eventually see climate refugees from Australia!
The infamous News Corp. owned by Rupert Murdoch continues to give newspaper space and television time to “experts” denying that climate change has anything to do with the Australian fires. There is one exception: son James Murdoch has criticized the denial in his own family’s media empire.
With climate, Australia is still driving around without seatbelts. The country had a crude seat belt in their carbon pricing, but even that was thrown out to please the coal lobby. Marc Hudson studied that history of white Australians guarding the bastion of coal, supported by a coal worker’s union. There a lesson for all of us in Australia’s struggle.
Why do white people assume only white people can change the world, only white people can “solve” the climate crisis? We can see too an unspoken assumption that men must save the world, since at present men are still mainly at the helm of vast corporate power, and the politicians that wealth can buy.From what I’m seeing, it may instead by Chinese people who topple the climate giant. Think of their really big installations of alternative energy, China’s manufacture of solar panels, their high speed trains and public transit. And I see a wave of brilliant Chinese climate science coming into the English scientific journals. Maybe it’s the Chinese?
Marc’s research shows how industry weathers short-term public demand for climate action, returning to the norm or worse every time. Climate activists need to understand this mechanism – to overcome the industry’s strong defensive game. Hudson also found recurring “windows” for climate action and public interest. In this interview, he gives the years when climate was “hot” and when the public moved on to other concerns.
During the interview, Marc references a book by Australian author Dominic Kelly: “Political Troglodytes and Economic Lunatics: The Hard Right in Australia“. He then references Guy Pearse PhD Thesis on Australian economy and climate change, and coined the term “the Greenhouse Mafia”.
I broadcast a talk by Guy Pearse on Radio Ecoshock broadcast July 6, 2007. This speech was recorded by Radio Adelaide, on in July 2007, as part of their festival of ideas.
Our guest Marc Hudson has a paper awaiting publication which makes the case Australia will decarbonize much faster than anticipated, say within 10 years, partly driven the impact of these fires on the public. But he thinks it is “very, very unlikely that Australia will stop exporting fossil fuels”. Only if customers go off fossil, ending demand, will Australia stop, Marc tells us.
After listing several periods of environmentalist concern, and the forces of inertia and resistance to change in large systems, he says “we need not just not just a transition but a transformation”. He thinks the prospects for meaningful change are so remote he decided not to have children. Marc says it is unlikely the current civilization will persist much longer – 10-30 years maybe.
You can watch a You tube video of Marc talking about Australia and climate change, posted in June 2019 here.
NICK CUNNINGHAM: FRACKING BOOM AND BUST IN AMERICA
American media brags the U.S. will again become the world’s largest exporter of climate-wrecking fossil fuels. But the biggest America coal companies went Bankrupt. Now the largest US natural gas company lost billions while their stock became junk. That clash of messages comes with reports that fracking companies are blasting large quantities of methane straight into the atmosphere, instead of selling it as natural gas.
To figure out what is going on, we have Nick Cunningham on the line. With a Masters in International Relations & International Economics from John Hopkins, Nick often publishes at OilPrice.com and a widely-published independent reporter on the oil and gas industry.
Energy reporter Nick Cunningham
In February 2018, there was a huge methane leak from a blown gas well in Ohio. The release was so large, methane was measured from space. There was more methane from this single accident than from other entire countries. But every day, the world’s largest fracking site, called the Permian Basin, is venting huge quantities of methane.
Most of the companies are really fracking for oil, which still has a reasonable price on the market. Natural gas prices are very low. Plus there are not enough pipeline in West Texas to haul away the gas, even if you could get decent money for it. Instead, companies go the Texas Railroad Commission to get permits to either vent the gas, or burn it at the stack “flaring”. The Commission gets thousands of requests a year, and never says “No”. So there is no regulation at all.
We all know that natural gas is basically methane. We also know that methane is up to 100 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas that carbon dioxide, even though it starts to convert to CO2 after a decade or two up there. Think of the insanity here! Humans are blowing up the underground to bring up methane that was safely stored for the ages in little bubbles in the rock. We borrow lots of money, get the gas, and then just pump it into the atmosphere. It is hard to imagine a species so crazy.
A few years ago, Richard Heinberg wrote about the fracking debt game in his book “Snake Oil”. The fracking industry is really a financial pyramid scheme, where companies borrow more and more. You can find my interview with Richard in my Radio Ecoshock show October 2, 2013.
But now the bankruptcies Richard Heingerg forecast have come. Nick Cunningham tells us that a company most of us have never heard of is America’s largest natural gas utility: EQT. They just announced a multi-billion dollar loss, and their stock tanked to junk-bond territory. Wall Street is getting tired of waiting for any pay-off for fracking, and is cutting back on those dangerous loans. Nobody covers this American energy corporate environment better than Nick Cunningham, in my opinion. I check his posts at oilprice.com regularly, and I think climate activists should do the same.
I covered fracking emissions previously in several shows, including an interview with Robert Howard at Cornell. Since then he’s out with new material.
FRACKING RADIATES OUT ALONG PILLARS OF POWER
The whole rolling ball of quickly exhausting fracking wells, at time in less than 2 years, means there must always be more well drilled and exploited. If that ball stops, the whole pile of over-leveraged debt collapses on the banks and the stock market. To keep it going, the industry has deep political backing, including but not limited to the Koch machine.
There was a time when Republicans acted to contain methane emissions, took a leadership role on it. Just two President ago, Republican George W. Bush acted on a plan (proposed by James Hansen of NASA) not only to reduce methane emissions from industry, landfills, and all human sources in America – but to take that movement overseas in many countries. The Administration advised against controllable methane sources being allowed to continue.
In the 1990’s, and into the early 2000s, the idea of throwing away natural gas was unthinkable. Flaring was a dirty practice outlawed in many jurisdictions. It brought up images of a primitive industry in places like Nigeria. Now the United States is the new Nigeria of gas flaring, and outright venting.
At a time when world governments declare a climate emergency, and scientists agree the worst is already upon us, this industry gratuitously becomes a giant methane smokestack to the atmosphere. Because gas is so over-stocked and cheap, in order to get at fracked oil, they are blowing off the gas. Essentially, in this time of climate crisis, these corporations (and government regulators) are putting down pipes into methane totally safely sequestered in rock and pumping it directly into the atmosphere. It is hard to imagine a greater insanity or criminality.
END THOUGHTS FOR THE ALMOST END TIMES
In our first interview, Marc Hudson thought Australia might decarbonize fairly quickly after the latest big fires, but would not stop exporting fossil fuels overseas. Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal. The country recently overtook Qatar to become the world’s largest exporter of natural gas. A new report from Bloomberg news shows that when we account for all the gas leaks from production through transportation and storage, liquid natural gas has a “Carbon Footprint Rivaling Coal”.
The only hope to stop Australian exports of climate-killing fuels is for their overseas customers to stop buying. We need climate activists from Australia and all countries to push solar and wind power in Asia, including India. We have to stop Australian coal pits and gas platforms from doing even more climate damage.
There is a glimmer of hope. New data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows wind and solar will dominate new energy installations in America. In 2019, 76% of all new electricity generation will be built as alternative green energy, while 85% of power plants closed were fired by coal and natural gas. The cost of wind and solar has fallen far below fossil fuels, even with government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and no subsidies for solar or wind. Simple economics may drive out fossil fuels.
EVEN IN ARIZONA.
The big Arizona Public Service Co. just spent millions fighting off a clean energy ballot initiative. Now they say they want to be carbon free by 2050 and coal-free by 2035. The Arizona utility promises to close it’s infamous Four Corners Generating Station coal plant in 2031, trying for almost half renewables by 2030. Arizona is the sunshine state so why not be the sunshine powerhouse? By the way, hello to Radio Ecoshock listeners in Bisbee Arizona.
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson just promised African leaders the UK would stop all direct support for coal mining and coal-fired power plants abroad. The UK pulled back from pushing coal projects abroad, but still puts billions of pounds into helping oil and gas projects. So it is not like Johnson acts like there is a climate emergency.
Greta Thunberg delivered her message at Davos, and Microsoft announced brave new climate goals. Meanwhile, the fires returned to Australia, scientists announced record ice loss from Greenland and oceans hotter than they have been for millions of years. Mining companies are championing the new frontier: stripping away the ocean bottom for metals. The world turns.
Maybe as Kafka said: “There is hope, but not for us”. But there could be hope for the future. I’m Alex Smith.
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