Capitalism, Renewable Energy, Ennui
and the Fabled
This is as good as it gets!
12th November 2011
For a second year, my neck of the woods seems headed for a
La Niña season1 . There was a yellow-billed
spoonbill stalking unfortunate frogs and similar wildlife in one of my dams
yesterday afternoon - a dam which, two years ago, and for several years before
that, was dry.
Yes, I know that the Horn of Africa is suffering famine and
drought2 ; that Pakistan and
Thailand are awash3 ; and that
devastating floods, storms and droughts are occurring elsewhere in the world.
But that is all happening somewhere else and makes great television - just like
all the other 'Reality' Shows which seem to have become standard entertainment
fodder (feeding an apparently insatiable voyeurism) around the world.
Yes, I know that this last Northern summer the arctic has been
navigable4 ; that major resource
companies are scrambling to cash in on a region fast becoming accessible for
exploitation5 ; and that permafrost
thawing is now a fact of life6 . But that's all good isn't it?
We have reached the high water mark in our responses to climate
change in Western countries.
Bold initiatives, contemplated over the past several years, such
- subsidies to encourage the deployment of solar panels
on house roof tops7 ;
- schemes aimed at making green house gas emissions
costly, or at least of building the cost of emissions into production costings;
- a range of re-forestation, biochar and similar
programs to sequester carbon;
- A range of CO2 'Capture and Storage'
are now in retreat.
In Western countries, politicians who clearly disbelieve and
dismiss the reality of climate change; who assume that claims of environmental
damage resulting from capitalist activity are 'socialist' conspiracies, are
winning political office9 . As they do, the first
tentative advances made by their predecessors are being dismantled.
An advertisement sponsored by a business council and currently
being run on multiple channels in Australia puts it clearly, if just a little
obtusely: "Why should we be disadvantaged when our emissions are fewer than
major industrial countries?"
Still, as I put the finishing touches to this missive, it's
early on a beautiful, balmy spring morning. The birds are singing. There is a
light, misty rain watering the gardens which should clear by breakfast time. My
solar panels are already feeding energy into the grid, and I should be sitting
under my clear polycarbonate roofed pergola enjoying a cup of coffee.
I truly admire those many stalwarts who, in the face of the
apparent lemming-like behaviour of 'world leaders', continue to explain the
increasingly obvious consequences of human indifference to the effects of their
activities on the planet - and, of course, on each other (whatever has happened
I'm fast coming to the conclusion that there is simply no point
in getting one's toga in a knot! Best to find a place on high ground, protected
from fire, flood, drought and pestilence (guess that means becoming a
self-sufficient hermit!) and watch as it all plays out!
Perhaps next time the mood takes me I'll talk about my dream of
melted ice-caps providing me with a boat ramp at the bottom of my property (sea
level will have to rise about 60 meters of course).
Niña re-established in the Pacific and In a broad area across the [U.S.] Southeast and along the southern
tier of states, drought is forecast to persist and expand for more on
2 See "WFP is aiming to
feed more than 10.9 million people in the Horn of Africa region. We are
currently reaching around 7.4 million drought-affected people " for more on
3 See Latest government
estimates put the number of people affected by the floods in Sindh at 5.3
million, of which 1.7 million are in need of urgent assistance for more on
the Pakistan problems; see Thailand is currently facing its worst flooding in 50 years. Flood
waters have swamped more than two-thirds of the country for more on the Thai
See Summer 2011:
Arctic sea ice near record lows:
"As in recent years, northern shipping routes opened up this
summer. The Northern Sea Route opened by mid August and still appeared to be
open as of the end of September. The southern "Amundsen Route" of the Northwest
Passage, through the straits of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, opened for the
fifth year in a row.…
September 2011 compared to past years
extent for September 2011 was the second lowest in the satellite record for the
month. The last five years (2007 to 2011) have had the five lowest September
extents in the satellite record.
The linear rate of decline is now -84,700 square kilometers
(-32,700 square miles) per year, or -12% per decade relative to the 1979 to 2000
average. In contrast to 2007, when a "perfect storm" of atmospheric and ocean
conditions contributed to summer ice loss, this year's conditions were less
From the beginning of the melt season in March, to the minimum
extent on September 9, the Arctic Ocean lost 10.3 million square kilometers (4.0
million square miles) of sea ice. It was the fifth year in a row with more than
10 million square kilometers of ice extent change from maximum to minimum.
In comparison, the average seasonal ice loss during the 1980s
was 9.0 million square kilometers (3.5 million square miles)"
5 See Oil & Gas Exploration In the Arctic Region - Research
"The report highlights the oil and gas exploration potential of
the Arctic region, providing details of the key exploration areas, major
companies exploring the Arctic and the drivers and challenges of oil and gas
exploration in the Arctic.
The report discusses the leasing and exploration activities in
the US, Greenland, Canada, Iceland, Norway and Russia, detailing concessions
awarded, new licensing rounds, companies involved and the drivers and challenges
6 As a recent summary of research in the Arctic
For a decade, monitoring systems have detected continuous
warming at Arctic sites near the coast, accompanied by a greening of the
landscape as reduced snow cover has allowed small shrubs to grow bigger and
seeds of trees and other plants to germinate in formerly frozen soils.
This year, new record highs were witnessed at 20 meters depth at
every permafrost observatory on the North Slope of Alaska, where measurements
began more than three decades ago. The most recent data suggest this warming
“has begun to propagate south towards the northern foothills of the Brooks
Range, where a noticeable warming in the upper 20 meters of permafrost has
become evident since 2008,” the report says.
The wholesale melting has substantially darkened the sea and
landscape, making both better absorbers of solar energy and accelerating the
(Janet Raloff, Arctic has taken a turn for the warmer: Scientists see pervasive
and permanent changes in the last five years, Science News, Friday,
December 2nd, 2011)
Recently a newly elected conservative government in my home state has
decided to end a two year long subsidy incentive scheme on electricity generated
from domestic solar panels. This was aimed at ensuring that the costs of solar
panel installation were recouped over 6 to 10 years. It is being replaced by a
scheme that effectively requires the installation costs to be borne by the householder (with feed-in-tariff subsidies reduced from 60c to 25 cents per kilowatt hour).
Similar incentive schemes in other states have already been, or are in
the process of being reduced.
Without the subsidy, my electricity supplier is
offering a mere 8c a kw for electricity fed into the grid (competing suppliers
are offering 6c!). They charge 28c per kw for energy supplied by them.
It is clear that for most people, the costs of
installing and maintaining solar panels have escalated and many will feel that
they are now simply in the business of supplying cheap energy to private
See Friends of the
Earth legal action over solar subsidy for a similar move in the UK. As
the BBC report (11 November 2011) says,
The new tariff of 21p per kilowatt-hour, down from the current
43p, will take effect from 1 April, but in October the government said it would
be paid to anyone who installs their solar panels after 12 December.
Carbon Capture and Storage (from The Guardian) for up
to date information on CCS developments around the world. As a Yale
Environment 360 summary explains for a project in West Virginia:
The U.S.’s most ambitious project to capture and sequester
carbon from a coal-fired power plant has been shelved by a large utility company, which says
that the lack of climate legislation and support from state governments has
rendered the $668 million project financially untenable. American Electric Power
(AEP), which serves 5 million customers in 11 states, will announce today that
it is indefinitely suspending its carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) project
at its Mountaineer plant in West Virginia. The utility has
been running a smaller CCS pilot project at the site for two years, but
executives at the utility said that the lack of federal climate legislation had
diminished incentives for CCS projects. In addition, AEP said that the refusal
of state regulators to allow the utility to pass on the cost of carbon
sequestration to its customers had made it impossible to continue the project.
“We are placing the project on hold until economic and policy conditions create
a viable path forward,” said AEP’s chairman, Michael G. Morris. AEP’s action is
a major setback to efforts to slow global warming using CCS technology, which faces
numerous logistical and technological challenges.
digest, 14 Jul 2011: Key CO2
Capture Project Is Suspended by Major U.S. Utility)
If believing in conspiracy theories is a form of paranoia then I guess
Western people are a remarkably paranoid bunch! As a Wikipedia entry on the
A conspiracy theory explains an event as being the result of an
alleged plot by a covert group or organization or, more broadly, the idea that
important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots
that are largely unknown to the general public.
theory accessed 24th Nov. 2011)
UK-Skeptics, in their attempt to hedge their bets on the topic
(allowing them to hold on to their own pet conspiracy theories?) put it like
this: "Valid conspiracy theories are those that are considered plausible." Of
course, since those who believe will, almost by definition, consider their
theories plausible, this opens the door to any conspiracy theory which grabs