Public policy and solar energy

By Luis Gutiérrez

Public policy can be both, an instrument for encouraging behavioural change towards more sustainable lifestyles and a barrier for social change. Yesterday, ABC published an article that seems like an example of the latter.

According to the Electrical and Communications Association, Federal and State Governments’ constant fluctuations of rebates and tariffs are making many solar businesses face the prospect of going bankrupt. Furthermore, solar panel installers in Western Australia argue that their industry is facing a 60 % decrease in demand because of the suspension of the solar feed-in tariff scheme.

As important and necessary individual and community action are, we also need coherent public policy that sends the correct signals to the different actors in the renewables market.


The Climate Reality Project

By Luis Gutiérrez

The Climate Reality Project is a project founded and chaired by Al Gore, Nobel Laureate and former Vice President of the United States. It has more than 5 million members and supporters worldwide. The main goal of this project is to bring the facts about the climate crisis into the mainstream and engaging the public in conversation about how to solve it. It is based on the premise that ‘the climate crisis is real and we know how to solve it’.

The project consists in a 24 hour internet TV show about the impacts of climate change and actions to mitigate them. It will show 24 presenters from 24 timezones in 13 different languages. The Canberra live broadcast will be on at around 5.30 pm (West-Coast time) today. Check it out and spread the word about it.

I also added a link to their website in our Blogroll at the right-hand side of our home page.

WA’s potential for minimising greenhouse gas emissions according to Tim Flannery

By Luis Gutiérrez

Science Network Western Australia published an article with Prof Tim Flannery’s (Australian of the year and leading climate change scientist) take on the potential Western Australia has for minimising greenhouse gas emissions. According to Prof Flannery:

“There’s a lot to be done, for example with the natural gas sector in the north of the state and the development of a wind and solar industry, particularly important to generate new electricity.”

“There are already some fantastic things happening in Perth with the extension of the rail network to Mandurah…this has taken a lot of cars off the road.”

“There is no doubt there will be a cost involved in terms of addressing climate change, as it’s been the case with every form of pollution control, so we have to pay that cost as an investment to make sure we don’t incur worse costs in future.”

Prof Flannery mentions big losses in export coal revenue (between $5–9 billion) because of the early 2011 floods in Queensland as an argument for supporting climate action in WA. These losses could also support the case for sustainability as an investment instead of a loss.

WA Government rules out nuclear energy for the next 20 years

By Luis Gutiérrez

The state government has ruled out nuclear energy in its Strategic Energy Initiative. This strategy shapes the future vision of WA in regards to energy needs.

Mr Peter Collier, Minister for Energy, declared to ABC that:

“The blueprint for the energy future of Western Australia is the Strategic Energy Initiative and that is for the next 20 years and in that time frame there will be no necessity for nuclear energy in WA.”

“The initiative is a blueprint for where we are going as a state in terms of our energy needs and there’s simply, number one, no demand for nuclear energy.”

“We have sufficient capacity through our other fuel sources such as gas, coal and renewables and also I think we need a significant cultural change before we seriously consider nuclear energy.”

Revisiting our wastefulness (Part I)

Revisiting our wastefulness (Part I)

Subas P. Dhakal, PhD
School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Murdoch University

One of the urgent challenges of our consumption-driven society is to engage individuals in reducing the consumption and thereby minimising the negative impact their behaviours have on the natural environment. Making individuals aware of the environmental ramifications of over-consumption can be a daunting tasking in a nation where the number of citizens (or rather consumers!) who are concerned about environmental issues has significantly decreased from 75% in 1992 to 57% in 2004. This discouraging trend often makes me wonder do we never stop and think about how much do we consume and how much do we waste? More importantly, do we even bother to assess how much of what we buy is junk, and how much of what we throw away is not trash? The following three facts suggest that we don’t!

  • Australians are one of the highest wasters in the world and West Australians have the highest per capita waste generation in the country. Perth’s per capita waste was nearly 2500 kilograms in 2006-07.
  • Of the nearly 44 million tonnes of municipal solid waste generated in Australia, more than half was recycled in 2006-07. However, Perth barely recycled one–third of its waste. This disappointing rate is similar to the one of the worst recycling nations in the planet, the US.
  • A recent study[1] also suggested that Australians waste more than $500 billion worth of food each year which is enough to run the entire Australian Army in any given year. While Queenslanders throw away the most amount of food per capita ($262) in Australia, West Australians are not that far behind and throw away $238 worth of food per capita.

It is clear that no other states or territories in Australia are more wasteful than Western Australia (WA) and not only do we waste the most but we also recycle the least. In a world where nearly a billion people go hungry every night and those who can spend less than a half of what we pay for a cup of coffee per day are considered fortunate – the way we consume and the way we waste is ecologically, economically, and more importantly, ethically unacceptable.

End of Part I

[1] Baker, D., Fear, J. and Denniss, R. (2009) What as waste: An analysis of household expenditure on food. Policy
Brief No. 6. Manuka, ACT: The Australian Institute.

Climate change impacts in WA

By Luis Gutiérrez

The Climate Commission has released a report titled ‘The Critical Decade: Western Australia climate change impacts’ about WA vulnerability to climate change. Among the most alarming facts, the report mentions:

  • Southwest WA is particularly vulnerable to climate change.
  • The declining rainfall and the nonlinear relationship between rainfall and runoff. According to the Climate Commission, a 15% reduction in rainfall in southwest WA could lead to a drop of up to 45% in amount of water that flows into Perth’s dams.
  • Sea levels along the Australian west coast have been rising at more than double the global average. Posing significant risks to WA’s coastal infrastructure.
  • Habitat for species like the quokka, Carnaby’s cockatoo and the tingle tree is likely to be considerably reduced as the climate changes.
  • The Ningaloo Reef and the multi-million dollar tourism industry it supports, face significant long-term risks from a changing climate.
This report stresses on how critical the decisions made between now and 2020 are in shaping future scenarios and Western Australia’s potential for expanding renewable energy generation.

The Carbon Tax: half-full / half-empty glass perspectives (Part 1)

By Luis Gutiérrez

This is the first of a three-part article discussing two different perspectives of the recently announced Carbon Tax and the subsequent Emissions Trading Scheme that have been discussed over the internet. This first part portrays a favorable view about the Carbon Tax, represented by Ben Eltham who focuses on its potentially positive effects while recognising its drawbacks and areas that need improvement.

The ‘glass is hall-full’ view:

In his article at New Matilda, Eltham analysed the Carbon Tax and explained why he thinks the scheme could work. The pros he mentions are:

  • The price of carbon ($23 per tonne), he reckons, will modify corporate and consumer behaviour in favour of cleaner and less polluting activities.
  • Measures, like allocating money for renewables R&D and finance, address a flaw in market-based mechanisms. Markets tend to bias investment decisions towards technologies that currently work, undermining longer-term technologies.
  • The 2050 emissions reduction target of 80 per cent represents a 20 point increase from the previously proposed CPRS and is more in accordance with the science of how far Australia needs to decarbonise.
  • By tripling the tax-free threshold and adjusting the Low Income Tax Offset, low income citizens will not pay tax until they earn $21,000 per year. This and other measures like increasing family payments, pensions and tax cuts, are examples of using the proceeds of carbon taxation to support the disadvantaged.
  • Eltham supports the Treasury’s opinion that the price rises resulting from the tax will be low in most essential costs of living. He mentions the case of electricity, in which price rises due to the carbon tax will be smaller than those already experienced in the last few years, related to the upgrading transmission infrastructure.

Nonetheless, Eltham points out two major drawbacks:

  • The over-compensation of dirty industries, and potential for abuse of foreign carbon credits. He cites as example the government plans to give the steel industry extra money, probably because of maneuvers by ALP-affiliated steel unions and not because of the true impact of a carbon price on this industry.
  • The potential for the abuse or financial manipulation of overseas carbon credits, which he reckons is the scheme’s more troubling flaw. Like other authors and researchers, Eltham finds the concept of carbon abatement credits “potentially dubious, relying on ‘saving’ carbon emissions from being emitted that none-the-less may still find their way into the atmosphere — for instance if a forest claimed as a credit today is later cut down in 2051”. He proposes extremely careful regulation to prevent the scheme from being distorted by financial innovators with expertise in trading and arbitraging carbon credits, which could flood the Australian market with cheap carbon credits by using lightly regulated abatement schemes in poor countries.

The main point Eltham makes in his analysis is that it is incorrect to expect that pricing carbon alone would do all the work. He thinks that this scheme’s chances to succeed rely on its regulations and policies, which reflect risks of market-based mechanisms, as well as Australia’s mixed economic system in which government investments and regulations interact with decision-making of profit-based corporations and investors.

Considering there are similar schemes already being implemented in other parts of the world, it seems reasonable to examine their effectiveness in decreasing carbon emissions. But this is one of the issues that will be discussed on Part 2 of this article, the ‘glass is half-empty’ view.