Watching the media trip over itself trying to echo - rather than question - Professor Ross Garnaut’s “diabolical policy problem”, has been a disappointing waste of a week or more. The doom merchants and their caravans have left the station. Where they’ll arrive, and what will be the price of their journey, is anyone’s guess.
And that’s the problem.
One thing seems to have escaped the media’s attention in its rehashing of the high octane Garnaut report. I speak of course of energy security.
Put your hands up if you’re in favour of a green and pleasant future in which the world is saved from violent climatic extremes. Really? Hey, me too! A future from droughts and flooding rains? Really? You don’t say?
But, surely our priority must be cheap, plentiful and reliable supplies of coal and oil to guarantee our lights stay on, our homes stay cool in summer and warm in winter, our industries are fed, jobs stay onshore and in the case of the Third World, their billions (of people) are nourished.
David Howell and Carole Nakhle in their book Out of the Energy Labyrinth: Uniting Energy and the Environment to Avert Catastrophe argue that achieving both climate security and energy security is the only game in town worth playing. Focusing on global warming in general, and on the pay-now reap-the-benefits-later plan in particular, which is implicit in such a climate security (more commonly called “global warming policies”), is doomed to failure.
To head off a much promised United Nations established climate change catastrophe, the world needs a vast reduction in the burning of fossil fuels. But with the ascent of China and India, global consumption patterns - and consequent carbon emissions - are all going the wrong way.
Demand for oil shows no signs of abating. The petro-sheiks at OPEC - in between counting their billions, repressing their women and denying Christians the right to worship - claim there is no problem with supply, even though the price has quadrupled in one year. Alongside the rising price and demand for oil, coal and natural gas prices are also travelling north.
Despite European Union pronouncements in favour of a carbon-free future, billions of euros are being funnelled into pipes to transport and burn massive amounts of natural gas in Northern Europe. Europe’s unhealthy reliance on Russian natural gas and Arab crude makes its economies hostages-in-waiting. And while cleaner than oil natural gas isn’t exactly what one would call “greenhouse friendly”.
Al Gore, former senator and environmental warrior du jour is cited in relation to three “inconvenient truths”.
- First, and the most ambitious of which, is the struggle to control the climate. The effort to control greenhouse gases (GHG) must be global to have any effect;
- Appeals to reduce carbon emissions may have support among policy analysts and the well-heeled white collar types. However, the vast majority of mankind’s behaviour will be dictated by financial considerations. The doom sayers may raise the global disaster megaphone, but that’s simply not enough to persuade most of mankind to make major sacrifices now for the sake of their grandchildren; and
- Timescales for cutting GHG are badly out of kilter. Energy needs are immediate, as are the threats to its supply. Threats include al-Qaida attacks on Saudi oil refineries as well as routine Iranian financed bombings of Iraqi oil pipelines. Given the disconnect between acting on GHG and witnessing the fruit of those actions, it will take roughly 50 years before any meaningful change in our atmosphere is created.
Howell and Nakhle, both hard on the Americans and soft on OPEC, are clearly climate change supporters, yet simultaneously somewhat dismissive of both Senator Gore’s and Sir Nicholas Stern’s forecasts, which they claim, are predicated on subjective assumptions. The authors remind the reader that in the real world:
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