Sunday, September 27, 2020

Australia’s great and costly retreat from coal

The biggest story of the moment, the biggest structural change in our politics, is that the Morrison government has admitted comprehensive and probably permanent defeat on coal. It seems like a different era in history when Scott Morrison as treasurer proudly brandished a lump of coal in parliament to demonstrate his party’s commitment to our black gold.

Still the largest source of our power, still our second biggest export, coal has been placed in the Coalition’s fantasy technology basket, to be revisited one day in the mythical future when renewables don’t need subsidies, pumped hydro creates more energy than it consumes, China’s carbon market comes into operation, and Australia wins soccer’s World Cup 6-0 against Brazil.

The new lowest common denominator on coal is we continue to export it but there are no circumstances in which we build a coal-fired power station. This is how conservative governments embrace long-term strategic defeat. They win a thousand tactical victories as they march backwards. The Coalition has lost the coal argument. It came into office in 2013 never dreaming it would abandon coal, but that is what it has done.

Labor and the Greens have won the argument even as they have lost the elections. The conservatives — meaning the Liberals and the Nationals — have accepted defeat. The Coalition has a good chance of retaining government by arguing that it will implement the left’s policies more carefully, cautiously, modestly, competently and with less economic damage than Labor would.

The abandonment of coal has serious strategic implications for Australia. We will never recover a robust manufacturing industry without cheap energy and we won’t have cheap energy without coal. The day after the government announced its wish list of fantasy technologies of the future — which any Labor government would have been proud to unveil — AGL Energy dumped a plan for a discounted electricity contract for Victoria’s Portland aluminium smelter. The long and the short of it is that unless the government shells out massive subsidies we are likely to lose aluminium and then steel as we continue, suicidally, our march away from any manufacturing capability.

Don’t think that in abandoning coal-fired power we are reflecting a global trend. The only people who think that are those whose globalism em­braces New York and Los Angeles, London and Paris, and almost no other part of the world. This year Germany has opened a new coal-fired power plant. Japan has 20-odd in the works over the next five years.

Ultra-supercritical coal-fired plants — the so-called high-efficiency, low-emissions plants — create about 30 per cent fewer emissions than old coal and a similar amount more than new gas. Such plants are being built in many parts of the world. It is a crazy woke fantasy to think coal is being phased out. Such thinking reflects a spectacular ignorance of Asia, which is becoming an ever bigger part of the global economy.

Not the only story about coal but by far the biggest is China. The Asia Society’s Policy Institute in New York has rounded up the figures in an extremely useful paper, China’s Response to Climate Change. Almost every climate commentator in Australia refuses ever to confront the China figures. Let me offer you a few of them.

This year alone China has approved new coal-fired power plants that can produce 17 gigawatts of energy. That is a huge capacity. And China is accelerating its approval and construction of coal-fired power plants, for that is more than it approved in the previous two years.

Kevin Rudd, in a recent oped in The Washington Post drawing on the Asia Society paper, pointed out that the new coal-fired power plant capacity being developed in China “is larger than the remaining fleet in the United States”.

The Asia Society records that China has 1040GW of coal-fired energy capacity, but this will be 1100GW by the end of the year. The China Electricity Council and the China State Grid both suggest raising this to 1300GW by 2030. Coal is declining slowly as a proportion of China’s energy mix but it is continuing, as these figures show, to increase rapidly in absolute terms.

The report also demonstrates the massive increase in coal, and other fossil fuel use, taking place as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative. Specifically, Chinese finance and support is involved directly in new coal-fired power plants in The Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Serbia. Beyond China, Indonesia has a huge program of coal-fired power plants being built. Before COVID-19 knocked everything off balance, India was planning to increase its coal-fired electricity generation by almost a quarter over three years.

COVID-19 will slow all this, but only temporarily. What is clear is that coal is booming in most parts of the world not ruled by The New York Times or the BBC. Our corporate leaders, or many of them, are happy to recite the mantra that coal has no future, partly because they want to avoid social media campaigns against them. In the West coal is moving away from public companies and into private equity hands, or into Asian investments directly. None of the expansion of coal outlined above has been denied finance because some Western banks now find coal politically inconvenient.

UN projections are that Africa’s population will increase to 4.5 billion by the end of this century. If any of them want to live above subsistence level they will need cheap energy. Coal is sure to play a big part.

If you are a friend of the environment, indeed if you want to moderate greenhouse gas emissions, you will want Australian coal to be used everywhere that’s possible because ours is the cleanest coal in the world. It’s just a geological fact. If a coal-fired power station in China or India is using Australian coal it will generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy produced than if it is using Chinese or Indian coal.

And as the biggest exporter (though by no means biggest producer) of coal, we could make a contribution by doing something clever on the technology of getting ever lower emissions from ultra-supercritical coal-fired energy plants. By not doing this we make ourselves poorer economically and weaker strategically, while our competitors, economic and strategic, become richer and stronger.

The Liberals, and even more the Nationals, know all this at some level but can no longer make a fight of it. Their political judgment is probably correct. Political parties must always deal with political reality. Gas is at least better than complete renewables madness. But the Coalition had no thought of this when it entered government. Its surrender on coal ought, though, at least be noted, given its grave implications for the national interest.


NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has defended police after a judge threw out charges against Canberra Raiders player Curtis Scott and described his arrest as ‘sickening’

Amazing. But cops stand up for cops

Scott, who joined the Raiders from the Melbourne last off-season, was found passed out drunk under a tree by police in Sydney’s Moore Park in January.

After attempting to wake him up, officers handcuffed and pepper sprayed the disoriented Scott, also stunning him with a taser, all while he was sitting on the ground.

Police were later left red faced when footage of the arrest was played in court, with the judge throwing out several charges, including two counts of assaulting a police officer, and describing the bungled arrest as ‘sickening’.

Despite the embarrassing criticism, Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told 2GB he was ‘sympathetic to police’ while avoiding answering a questions as to whether it was appropriate for officers to use a taser on a man who was sitting handcuffed on the ground.

“I watched the entirety of the event and I think sometimes you need to watch the entirety of the event to get it in context,’’ Fuller said.

“In these situations, if someone is trespassing in your front yard, they are asleep, they are intoxicated, they’re a young fit man, there are only a couple of ways to get them out.

“And one of those is for them to stand up and come with you.

“Often in these situations, it does escalate — there’s nothing we can do about that, if the individual is not going to comply with a reasonable direction.”

NRL player to launch civil action against NSW Police
Scott is reportedly set to sue the NSW Police for more than $100,000 in damages over the incident.

Magistrate Jennifer Giles said she did not have the “stomach” to watch the 22-year-old being tasered a third time after two separate videos showed Scott being pepper-sprayed and tasered after he was handcuffed.

A drunk and disorientated Scott can be heard saying “I’m getting dressed” before repeating that he has “done nothing wrong”.

Trying but failing to drag him onto his feet police administer pepper spray into his face which causes him to moan and yell he is “f***ing dying”. He swats police away with his hands in cuffs.

Mr Macedone says the tasering that follows was inappropriate and unwarranted after Scott followed officers’ instruction not to resist arrest and merely “raised his voice”.


Your bureaucrats will protect you — NOT

Outrageous photo shows an EPIC council fail after $1,232 child safety gate is installed at a local playground without a proper fence

A local council has been left embarrassed after images of a newly-installed child safety gate showed how completely useless it is.

The gate, which cost $1,232, was installed at Windsor Siding Park near Prahran and St Kilda East in Melbourne as part of a $300,000 upgrade by Stonnington Council.

An image of the gate shows it placed next to evenly spaced wooden stakes which revealed the awkward blunder.

The gaps in the makeshift fence mean children can easily escape the playground even if the safety gate is locked.

Stonnington Council spokesman Jim Carden said the gate looked ‘odd’ and the issue will be rectified. ‘Obviously the gaps in the adjoining ”fence” would appear to make the gate a bit redundant, so we have been looking at how to tidy it up without losing what is a nice design,’ he said. ‘So we are just adding some plants to fill in the gaps.’

Ratepayers Stonnington president Dean Hurlston said that council workers should have spotted the gate’s uselessness immediately. ‘Surely council staff or contractors can see the glaring error of judgment,’ he told Herald Sun. ‘It’s another example of council being out of touch with responsible spending and execution of projects. ‘It’s a good concept which has totally failed upon delivery.’


Reading wars rage on

Despite decades of bruising battles, the reading wars rage on — with a new review exposing persistent opposition to evidence-based reading approaches in schools.

The NSW Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) has put the contentious L3 (Language, Learning, and Literacy) programe under the knife. As many as three in five NSW government schools subscribe to the reading program — fully or partially — which ignores what’s clearly been identified as the best way to teach children to read.

L3 has persisted thanks to apparent pressure being placed on schools to participate in it, rather than it being backed by evidence.

Considerable taxpayer support has been committed for years to maintain the program, and the NSW Education Department has done little to deter educators from implementing the wayward method.

CESE’s move is a considerable blow to those who have resisted the phonics wave, as well as vindication for those who have been awake to L3’s evident flaws from the outset.

CIS research forcefully argued the case for reviewing the program in 2018 — pointing to the lack of evidence underpinning it at the time. The case against it has only mounted since then.

If it sounds like we’ve been here before, it’s because we have. A similarly dysfunctional programme — Reading Recovery — became defunct in 2018. Similarly, CIS research identified the lack of evidence supporting it as well.

As ever, children’s success in reading has been sabotaged by ideological commitment to constructivist learning approaches from a loud minority of education insiders.

A key battleground of the persistent reading wars is the role of phonics — the understanding of written letter and sound relationships — in learning to read.

One could be mistaken for assuming the war had already been won. Evidence from decades of research has stacked heavily behind use of explicit and systematic phonics as key to young learners’ reading success. And a growing number of policymakers — most notably the federal government — now actively promote the approach as a priority matter.

It’s well past time that education departments across the country better signal to teachers and schools which approaches have proved to be effective in the classroom — and those that aren’t.

Australian students have been denied the opportunity to become proficient readers and enjoy their best chance of educational success.

The task of reversing the damage caused by education’s evidence deniers remains a work in progress.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don’t forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here

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