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Environmental acts of faith are seriously misdirecting public investment in our electricity sector

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Monday, 1 February 2021

Environmentalism, complete with fear of global-warming (a modern day reincarnation of Hell?), has now established itself as a major religion in developed countries. Such beliefs are a now a huge influence on investment decisions, especially those of government.

The new religion makes many people fear the imminent destruction of our planet. Such (often holier-than-thou) scaredy-cats in turn are now rewarding politicians that indulge exaggerated climate fears. In particular, such voters help re-elect many governments with chequered (especially economic) records, that deserve to be thrown out of office. A similar trend is evident in respect of Covid 19, whereby governments that impose lockdowns and border closures at the drop of a hat, get re-elected by broadly the same electors.

The doomsday warnings of alarmists can be traced to a set of environmental acts of faith, that are falsely presented to the public, not just as science, but as undisputed and unexaggerated science, from which nobody is allowed to dissent. In reality, many environmental alarmists hide behind a veneer of facts, that conceal a chronic propensity to "cry wolf".


It is clear fact that global temperatures have risen 1 to 1.5 degrees since pre-industrial times (and that global temperatures have risen and fallen cyclically, not just for centuries, but for millennia). To date, alarmist predictions of much faster temperature (and sea-level) rises in recent times simply haven't happened.

Australia is continuing to severely damage its economy trying to achieve greenhouse targets (pushed mainly by countries that themselves often lack coal, gas or oil resources, and have a lot less to lose). This is all despite the prospect that advocated greenhouse targets will never be met on a global scale because they are extremely costly to achieve.

The predecessors of those currently predicting an imminent global warming catastrophe (e g the "Club of Rome") were in 1972 forecasting that the world would run out of resources, especially fossil fuels. A decade ago they were gleefully declaring that "peak oil" was almost upon us. Peak coal supposedly was in 2013, peak oil was to be between 2020 and 2030, while peak gas was going to be later. Any problem of excessive greenhouse gases (not so fashionable back then) therefore was to disappear naturally due to depletion of resources, and soaring oil and coal prices.

Acts of faith are not new. The Credo, for example, was historically recited by many Christians to state their core beliefs. Such statements of religious belief have now been replaced for many by a collection of less formal environmental acts of faith.

In respect of climate, the main environmental acts of faith are that:

  • A global warming catastrophe is in prospect unless the world moves to 100 per cent renewable energy.
  • The world needs to stop burning coal and petroleum products (though the greenhouse emissions consumed in making solar panels, wind turbines etc can be ignored).
  • The intermittency of wind and solar generated power is assumed solvable by a combination of (expensive and mostly yet to be developed) batteries and pumped-storage hydroelectricity. (Diesel or natural gas backup is actually more common but environmentalists don't mention this. Environmentalists also rarely recognise that off-grid solar systems are only adequate when their usage is restricted to lighting and electronics, and augmented by gas cooking, wood heating, and a petrol or diesel backup generator.)
  • Natural gas power generation is deemed acceptable only as a stopgap measure to address intermittent electricity shortages, being quicker to fire up and less carbon intensive than coal.
  • It is not ok to replace existing old-technology coal fired stations with cleaner, far more efficient new generation coal-powered facilities.
  • Nuclear power is an absolute taboo, even though it provides cheap reliable base-load power without direct greenhouse emissions.
  • Internal combustion engines need to be banned and be replaced by electric motors (even if most electric power currently mostly comes from coal).

The common (though far from total) acceptance of these environmental acts of faith has been more costly for Australia than for other countries because Australia has abundant coal and gas resources, that have been key elements in our comparative advantage. By rejecting coal, Australia is smashing its electricity system, and much of our energy-intensive manufacturing has been made uneconomic.

What Australia continues to do to its electricity system is simply insane in terms of both economics and our national interest.

According to one leading economic commentator, Australia (having already doubled electricity prices to consumers) is also paying $13bn annually and rising in direct and hidden subsidies for wind and solar. Price signals to electricity producers and consumers therefore have now been totally distorted. (Retail electricity prices are now mostly between 25 and 40 cents per kwh with SA the dearest state and Queensland the cheapest). State governments privatised much of their coal-fired generating capacity decades ago, and subsequently had no qualms about sending the new owners down the swanny.

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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